Some of you may recall that I recently put out a message on social media asking if anyone had any information on the National White Water Centre on Afon Tryweryn, at Frongoch, near Bala. (Two names there resonant of England’s imperialist past, Tryweryn and Frongoch.)
My reason for asking is that the Centre’s website gives neither Charity Commission number nor Company number; there is no indication of how the centre is run, for not a single individual’s name appears on the website for management, staff, trustees, or anyone else. I searched both the Companies House website and the Charity Commission website but could find nothing for the National White Water Centre. Then I noticed that the e-mail address is email@example.com so I searched for ‘UK Rafting’, but I drew another blank. (Interestingly, the Centre’s website address is ukrafting.co.uk.) The only conclusion I could draw was that there is a third entity, other than UK Rafting and the National White Water Centre involved, which is nowhere named on the website.
So on Monday morning, bright and early, before driving the missus to work (car not whip), I e-mailed the Centre asking four questions:
1/ You are called the ‘National White Water Centre’. Is that the ‘Wales / Welsh National White Water Centre’, the ‘UK National White Water Centre’ or the ‘England / English National White Water Centre’?
2/ No management is listed, nor is there any mention of trustees, so how is your Centre run?
3/ Are you registered with the Charity Commission, if so, what is your number? Are you registered with Companies House, if so, what is your number?
4/ How are you funded?
Within a few hours I received a telephone call from a suspicious Scotsman named Mark Williamson who apparently works at the Centre but was phoning me from somewhere in “south Wales”. In answer to my e-mailed questions he was able to tell me that the Centre is not a charity but a commercial enterprise, run by “C W Sales and Services”. When I asked what C W stood for, he told me Canoe Wales. So the Centre, on Afon Tryweryn, would appear to be a commercial arm of Canoe Wales. Yet on the Canoe Wales website I could find no mention of the Bala Centre until I used the search facility, and this page came up. On funding. Mr Williamson was rather vague, and when it came to which nation the ‘National’ element in the name refers to, even vaguer. Saying that when the Centre opened (in 1986) it was the only one of its kind in the UK, so presumably it is the UK National White Water Centre.
So, by Monday afternoon, I had something to get my teeth into, C W Sales and Services. The Companies House website told me that this PLC was Incorporated 06.11.2012 and its Company Number is 08282630. On the Companies House website I also found, Canoe Wales (Incorporated 09.03.1990, Co. No. 02478971) and Canoe Wales (Commercial) Ltd (Incorporated 02.11.2012, Co. No. 08278776). All three have their registered office at ‘Canolfan Tryweryn, Frongoch, Bala, Gwynedd LL23 7NU’.
Next stop was DueDil for financial and other information that I might have to pay for on the Companies House website. First, CW Sales and Services Ltd., to which Mr Williamson had directed me. Without getting bogged down in figures, the company is not healthy with, at 30.03.2014, net current liabilities of £164,131. The current directors are David William Wakeling and Andrew Jeremy Booth, and the company is wholly owned by Canoe Wales.
Moving on to Canoe Wales itself, the accounts are overdue at Companies House but the most recent figures, at 31.03.2013, show net worth at £199,786, down from a high of £542,036 at 31.03.2008. (The net worth may in part be attributable to property or land as Canoe Wales has two outstanding mortgages.) The current directors are David William Wakeling, Glyn Royston Stickler, Alan John Baker, Emma Aldridge, Andrew Jeremy Booth and Paul Donovan. (More info available here.)
The most recent filed accounts confirm what Mr Williamson told me, “As at 1st April 2013, commercial trading activities and the operation of the white water centre at Canolfan Tryweryn were transferred to CW Sales and Services Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary”. The accounts also showed that two of the directors had made loans to Canoe Wales, David Wakeling £45,000 and Emma Aldridge £10,000. “Government grants” amounted to £222,736. Despite the white water canoeing and the educational angles promoted on the website and elsewhere the accounts show that the largest source of income is “rafting”, which I suspect is little more than stag parties, supermarket middle management on beery ‘bonding’ courses, and Islamist terrorists having fun, which makes the White Water Centre at Frongoch little more than another insulting ‘Playground Wales’ tourist business. The SW of course refers to Sport Wales, public money, yours and mine. (Click on panel above to enlarge.) The DueDil pages for Canoe Wales also suggest there is an adverse credit report available. I don’t feel the need to pay the £11.99 requested to tell me that Canoe Wales is heading up Shit Creek.
Finally, Canoe Wales (Commercial) Ltd. The only directors are Wakeling and Booth and the company is 100% owned by Canoe Wales. I was unable to get financial figures as, according to DueDil, the company did not trade during year ending 31.03.2013 and the most recent accounts, for y/e 31.03.2014, are still being processed.
When looking through the information on Canoe Wales I noticed that there was another company mentioned as being part of the group. This was Rescue 3 (UK) Ltd, Registered at a Manchester address with the Company Number 04613689 and Incorporated 10.12.2002. The directors at the time the liquidators were appointed in August 2013 were Paul Eamon O’Sullivan, Philip Blain, David William Wakeling and Ashley James Charlwood. Familiar names such as Baker, Aldridge and Stickler abandoned the sinking canoe 31.03.2013. The lack of white water facilities in Manchester meant that Rescue 3 (UK) Ltd took advantage of the Frongoch Centre and other facilities in Wales. The company’s website is closed but the company almost certainly had some connection with Rescue 3 Europe. The folded company had a share issue of 50,000 £1 shares and was wholly owned by Canoe Wales, which obviously took the hit when Rescue 3 (UK) Ltd folded. Explained in the CW accounts thus (click to enlarge):
Let’s recap. Canoe Wales started life in 1990 as the Welsh Canoeing Association, explained here in the Document of Incorporation. Its purpose to represent canoeists in Wales. Though I couldn’t help noticing that this first document lists among its objects: “To act as the Association governing the sport and recreation of canoeing in Wales on behalf of the British Canoe Union“. How often have we read something like that? Then, at a meeting held on October 5th 1996, at the Welsh Institute of Sport in Cardiff, it was decided that henceforth the Management Council would be known as the Board of Directors with Council Members becoming Directors and all the other attendant changes. (Click here for details.) The Chairman at this meeting, also the Chairman of the Association, was a Mark Charlton. Blain was elected Vice-Chairman and Wakeling Treasurer. I suspect that the name was changed to Canoe Wales in November 2008. One question someone may be able to answer is, if the Welsh Canoeing Association wasn’t formed until 1990 who opened the White Water Centre at Frongoch in 1986?
What we have with Canoe Wales is a model I have encountered many times before. To begin with, there is the parent body, all fluffy and lovable, doing wonderful things with kiddies, the disabled and the disadvantaged, run by frightfully nice people with silly names and rings in assorted orifices. This set-up relies for its very existence on hefty dollops of public funding, for Wales is a wealthy country with money to spare. Problems start when those running these Third Sector outfits see themselves as entrepreneurs (a word for which there is no equivalent in Welsh, by the way), and they set up ‘trading arms’ and branch out in other ways. A good example would be the one and only Naz Malik, who was not only operating in Wales but also, as this Charity Commission page tells us (click to enlarge), in Kenya and Pakistan! Why was he allowed to operate outside of Wales with Welsh public funding? Was I the only one to notice this? But as I say, it doesn’t really matter because Wales is so wealthy.
The status of these offshoots can vary. Some will be wholly owned by the parent company, others will be free-standing private companies, with any profits going to the directors who, in a parallel dimension, are also the officials of the publicly-funded body. These private offshoots will invariably use facilities and equipment owned by the parent body and paid for out of the public purse. I was introduced to this angle a couple of years ago when told about a women’s ethnic minority charity in Cardiff, I believe the name began with the letter B. The problem was that the husband of the woman running the show had a private company doing very similar work, and they saw no problem in him using the equipment and facilities of the charity that had been bought with grants from the ‘Welsh’ Government and other sources. But they were both well connected in the Labour Party and so nothing was done about it. In fact, the husband was ‘promoted’ to run another charity in the Valleys.
The next problem encountered is entirely predictable. It invariably transpires that our Third Sector grant-grabbers are not the next Richard Branson (unless they’re replicating Beardie’s success in space tourism). This results in spin-offs hitting the rocks, with considerable sums of money having to be written off, as in the case of Resue 3 (UK) Ltd. So who covers these losses? Are they paid for out of grants to the parent body? Perhaps the bigger question is, who keeps track on behalf of the funders of where the money goes, and how it’s used, especially when the body to which the grant is given has spawned a number of offshoots that do not themselves qualify for grants? The question is partly rhetorical, because I am one hundred per cent certain that there have been many examples of funding being misused in this way. But as with Malik’s ‘Today Swansea, tomorrow the world’ approach, no one seems to care. It would be too embarrassing for those giving out the grants to have all these cases exposed.
Something else I noticed while wading through the Canoe Wales paperwork is that they’ve changed their auditors four times, or rather, the auditors have resigned. It happened in 1999, 2002, 2013 and 2014. It may be nothing, but losing two auditors in the past couple of years may suggest something more than carelessness. Were I a funder I would certainly be asking questions.
In conclusion, I suspect that Canoe Wales is breaking up on the rocks of mismanagement and over-ambition, kept afloat only with public funding (and loans from the directors!). This funding from Sport Wales is presumably given because it’s believed Canoe Wales fulfils some educational or other worthy role. But as the accounts make clear, the bulk of the punters come for the fun and games of rafting (as the website URL suggests) – so why are large amounts of Welsh public funding being used to keep open a water ride for drunken jollying that probably employs no Welsh people and lies so close to Capel Celyn? Insult piled upon insult. Canoe Wales is an expensive failure that should not receive another penny from the Welsh public purse. Pull the plug!
FOOTNOTE: One reason I enjoy doing posts like this is that once you start digging there’s just no telling what you’ll unearth. This case being a perfect example. For when I started digging into the background of David Wakeling, to find out what his day job was, and how he could afford to loan Canoe Wales £45,000, I discovered that he owns Toucan Systems of Abertillery, Company No 02068869, which manufactures high-spec electronic components. Another director is Mark Williamson, the Scotsman I spoke with on the telephone. Mr Williamson is also a director of Beaufort Tenants Management Ltd of Monmouth, Company No 02847525. So was Williamson recruited into Toucan because Wakeling knew him through Canoe Wales, or vice versa?
Perhaps even more interesting was another name on Toucan’s list of previous directors (April 2001 – May 2003) – a Ms Pippa Bartolotti, self-styled leader of the equally self-styled ‘Wales Green Party’. What a small world! Some Greens suggest that Ms Bartolotti is not what she seems, that she is persona grata with the Israeli authorities and that she has been involved with companies connected with the military. Toucan is such a company. The woeful ‘protests’ she organised for the NATO summit in Newport last September did nothing to lift the cloud of suspicion hanging over that head of wild, abundant hair.
All of which raises the possibility that Canoe Wales is indeed a dead duck financially, but is being kept open for reasons that cannot be stated.