I am indebted to D P for drawing my attention to the Owain Glyndŵr Fields Initiative. If, like me, you were unaware of this project, then this extract from the website might help: “The Owain Glyndwr Fields Initiative was established to commemorate the 600th anniversary of Owain Glyndwr, Prince of Wales, through the protection of recreational open space in his name. The initiative, which was endorsed by the National Assembly for Wales, was launched when the first field was established in the shadow of Caerphilly Castle in 2001 and has since seen 20 sites around Wales dedicated to the statesman.”
These sites have a curious geographical spread: one in Caerffili, one in Powys, one in Conwy, two in Monmouthshire, five in Gwynedd, and no less than ten in Wrecsam! Some are where you’d expect to find the great man commemorated, such as Machynlleth and Pennal, but why is there nothing in Denbighshire, at Rhuthun or Glyndyfrdwy? Out of twenty-two Welsh local authorities only six have shown any interest at all.
There’s not a lot to argue with there, unusually patriotic for those clowns down Cardiff docks, even though they only “endorsed” the initiative (so whose idea was it?). But if you look more closely at the web page, and the menu tabs above, you’ll see that the Owain Glyndŵr Fields Initiative is just a Welsh manifestation of something much bigger called Fields in Trust. And when you read the blurb on the home page you realise there’s nothing new about this at all.
For it says: “We were founded back in 1925 as the National Playing Fields Association by King George V. Our mission is the same now and (sic) as it was then: to ensure that everyone – young or old, able or disabled and wherever they live – should have access to free, local outdoor space for sport, play and recreation. These spaces are vital to building happy and healthy communities and sadly continue to be threatened by all kinds of development.
We are a national charity and operate throughout the UK to safeguard recreational spaces and campaign for better statutory protection for all kinds of outdoor sites.”
Now I’m sure that many of you will have heard of the National Playing Fields Association, and I can recall the King George V Playing Fields down on the Mumbles Road in Swansea (always referred to as ‘Ashleigh Road’), though these are hired out by the city council, and certainly aren’t free, as suggested in the Fit blurb just quoted. When I tried to find Fields in Trust on the Charity Commission website (using the charity number given, 306070) I landed with the National Playing Fields Association. Then I found, at the foot of the website, “Fields in Trust is the new operating name for the National Playing Fields Association”. So Fit is nothing more than a re-branding exercise. But what’s the point of that?
The answers start to come when you know that Fit is part of the Charities Forum, “Founded by The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry” (with the duke president of Fit). So on one level, it’s an attempt to give the impression that the junior royals have something useful to do. Which then gives the BBC and certain newspapers the opportunity to remind us how hard these royals work, and what good work they do, and to make sure we know they do it all for nothing!
When you check out some of the other pages on the website then you realise that the re-branding also has a more political nature, to serve contemporary political purposes. For one of the other initiatives, Centenary Fields, is linked with the World War One celebration of Britishness and unity. (‘You listening, Salmond!’)
For with the Scottish referendum just seven weeks away it’s no surprise to learn that in Scotland Centenary Fields is linked with Poppy Scotland. There appears to be no direct Welsh equivalent of Poppy Scotland but there is Cymru’n Cofio / Wales Remembers, which looks like a spin-off from the UK commemorations. I found the Cymru’n Cofio image on the Caeau Canmlwyddiant page under the ‘Cymru’ tab. I’m giving the page name in Welsh because the Welsh pages of the Fit website are remarkable for being in Welsh only, without English translations! I suppose the tab should have read ‘Cymraeg’ instead of ‘Cymru’. Which would then mean, presumably, that the information for Wales would be another example of ‘For Wales, see England’.
I have no problem with remembering those men who fought and died in the Great War, it is only right that we do so. But let us also remember how unnecessary and avoidable that conflict was, and that the only victors were American capitalism and Russian communism. If we are to teach children about WWI then don’t confine it to the bravery and the stoically-endured suffering; tell them about the political folly and the military incompetence, the executions of ‘deserters’ and ‘cowards’, and all the other things that challenge the sanitised version. Because I worry that the version being pushed now is not a lot different to what Wilfred Owen warned us against in the final lines of Dulce Et Decorum Est:
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
(The phrase comes from an ode by the Roman poet Horace, and means, roughly: ‘It is noble and fitting to die for one’s country’.) Though I suppose, in fairness, there is a big problem for a country like Britain, because you can’t really tell kids the truth about war knowing you’ll need some of them to unquestioningly fight in the next Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, Iraq . . .
To finish where I started, I believe that every civilised society should have plenty of open spaces for its people, I grew up in a city blessed with wonderful parks and playing fields. But these open spaces shouldn’t be exploited to promote some silly idea that heirs to the throne have any real purpose beyond breeding and waiting their turn; nor should the innocent and wholesome role of parks and playing fields be traduced in the service of sanitised and politicised interpretation of war.
Knowing how many of you are gleefully anticipating the arrest of avidly following the exciting career of our new MEP, Nathan Gill, I thought I’d give you a wee update. For those arriving late to the feast let me explain that Nathan Lee Gill is a ‘businessman’ (of sorts) who was elected to the European Parliament on May 22 to represent Wales and the United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip).
Since writing the last of those posts there have been developments and I have received further information, which I shall now share with you.
I have reported Gill to H. M. Revenue and Customs, in a letter mailed on July 7th. I did this because I sincerely believe that Gill has, over many years, defrauded the tax authorities through operating a number of cash-in-hand enterprises; either alone, or in partnership with others. It could even be that some of the enterprises in which he was engaged were of a nature that made it impossible to declare earnings without admitting to unlawful activities.
More information has been received from my original informant since I wrote to HMRC. The first talked of Gill buying a new Citröen C5 in 2008, which was paid for with cash. Even then it would have been difficult to get the big Citröen for less than £16,000, even paying in cash. I was also told that Gill’s brother-in-law, Brian Lynn Quilter, had paid “mainly with cash” for a Lotus Elise sports car. Depending on the specification, Quilter’s car could have cost more than Gill’s C5.
My informant also talks of two classic cars used for weddings, and “a shop in the village where he lives doing wedding videos”. Does he mean Llangefni? Can readers up there rack their memories for such an enterprise. A Humvee may have been involved, one with a big TV screen in the back.
The Humvee also clears up one of the (many) mysteries in Gill’s past. In earlier posts I mentioned, among the companies with which Gill has been associated, Humview Ltd, Incorporated on March 16, 2008 and finally struck off on May 30, 2009. During its brief existence it had just three directors: Gill, his wife, Jana, and a Richard Bruce Worsey, who resigned eight days before the end, and may also be a resident of Anglesey. My informant states that the Humvee cost £26,000, but does not say if this was also paid for with readies. But knowing Nathan Gill . . .
My informant also referred back to Guy Fawkes’ Night in 2001 (refresh your memory here). It appears that the church in Hull was a Grade II listed building. Gill applied for planning permission. He was refused. There was a “mysterious fire” which Gill blamed on kids throwing fireworks. (Why am I deafened by alarm bells ringing!)
Finally, we have further evidence of what a believer Gill is in international trade. (Read about the Ghana connection.) For I am told that Gill and Quilter made a number of trips to China, and – wait for it! – were accompanied on these trips by large amounts of folding. Quite what was bought, my informant does not know, not being privy to the details of these oriental excursions; but he is in no doubt that the gruesome twosome were “avoiding duty”. Shome mishtake, shurely!
Moving on, as they say, I am indebted to another correspondent for informing me that he has reported Nathan Gill to the Electoral Commission, arguing that Gill is in breach of Section 106 of the Representaion of the People Act. Rather than me try to explain what I might not properly understand, I shall quote directly from the correspondence I received, which I assume to be a copy of what was sent to the Electoral Commission.
The point being, of course, that from 2009 until his election on May 22, 2014, Gill was an adviser to his predecessor as Ukip MEP, John Bufton. So he was not, “a real person with a real job”, he was precisely what he denied being – “a career politician”. Nor was he, at the time these leaflets were written and circulated, a “domiciliary and residential care services professional”, for the only income declared to the European Parliament was that which he received as an “MEP’s assistant”.
It will be interesting to see whether the Electoral Commission has the balls to proceed with this complaint.
Finally, let me extend thanks to a third person for directing me to Gill’s four UK assistants; they are: Major John Atkinson, Andrew Martin Haigh, Scott George Tuppen and Simon Wall.
The Major lives in Swansea and spent 33 years (1967 – 2000) in the Royal Marines, so presumably he worked his way up through the ranks. He stood for Ukip in the 2011 Assembly elections on the South Wales West regional list. He was second (of four) on the Ukip slate which managed 4.3% of the vote, just ahead of Socialist Labour on 3.3% and the BNP on 3.1%. He may have stood in other elections but I can’t be bothered to check.
Andrew Martin Haigh was Ukip candidate for Delyn in the 2010 general election, when he came home in sixth place, behind the BNP. He seems not to have excited Google since that foray into electoral politics. Haigh has this to say on Friends Reunited: “I live in North Wales and run a small mail order business. I am married to clare a marine biologist who works for the government. In my spare time I write and also play Bass in a 60/70’s rock & roll band.” (My toes are curling for him.)
The company is Vitaplankton, for which he has worked since it was Incorporated in March 2013. On DueDil the business is described as ‘Fish Farrming’ and ‘Marine Aguaculture’. I suppose it’s reasonable to assume, given his wife’s job, that she helps out or advises in Haigh’s business; maybe he has access to facilities or equipment at her place of work, or he makes use of data or contacts that she can provide through her work. But would that be allowed? Haigh currently lives in Llanrug, near Caernarfon, but has previously lived in Menai Bridge. Regular readers will know that Menai Bridge was home to Gill’s parents, and also home to the dump of tyres destined for Ghana. Haigh is of course English.
UPDATE July 25: More information has come to light on Haigh. The mail order business referred to may in fact be Vitalox, which sells a twenty-first-century equivalent of snake oil. Haigh imports oxygen (sic) from Canada that, it is claimed, can cure everything from ingrowing toenails to baldness, plus many more serious conditions. (Read the ‘Oxygen & Cancer’ section.) Though if the oxygen fails (as it presumably will), then the Vitalox website recommends prayer, with a Spirituality page; and wouldn’t you know it – Haigh is a Mormon, like Gill and all his family! The website modestly describes Haigh as a “serial entrepreneur” (for which there is no word in Welsh, incidentally), a description I’m sure Nathan Gill has applied to himself.
UPDATE July 30: Thanks to BC I now have more information on Haigh. Such as the fact that he and his wife have a little sideline in Segways. Also, that this staunch Kipper, hostile to the EU and all its works, recently sought to recruit a Lab technician for Vitaplankton, and as the advert makes clear, “The post is funded under the European Fisheries Fund”.
What is it with these Ukip Mormons; are they all hypocrites, charlatans, crooks and con men?
Scott George Tuppen seems to be yet another Kipper with a head for business. From July 11, 2011 to November 7, 2012 he was a director / company secretary of a firm called Cusu Services Ltd which according to DueDil, has a current book value of -£178,468. Though young Tuppen – for he is but 31 – started in business at the age of 15 with Tuppen and Associates Enterprises Ltd, with big sister Angela holding his hand. This venture lasted from July 31, 1998 to June 21, 2000. Tuppen and Associates was based in Brynna, Pontyclun.
Finally, we come to Simon Wall, another Englishman plaguing Anglesey. Reminding us that in many parts of Wales Ukip is little more than an English club, of the kind that might have been found in earlier times in the White Highlands or some Indian hill stations. English people away from home becoming ever more exaggeratedly English and hostile to the natives.
The net is closing on Gill, and those associated with him. Given his past he was always destined to be yet another embarrassment for the United Kingdom Independence Party. Which will bring nothing but joy to those of us who have come to realise what a deceitful and unprincipled bastard this man is, and yet so representative of Ukip. But before he departs the political stage let him do Wales one service in reminding us why we must be alert to him and his kind, and why we must leave them in no doubt that they are unwelcome in our country.
If you scroll down my sidebar you’ll see that, under ‘Jac’s Reads’, one of the blogs I follow is Wales Eye, written by Daran Hill, managing director of Positif, a political lobbying firm in Cardiff docks and an integral part of the self-important but ultimately impotent Cardiff bubble. Don’t think I’m being nasty to Daran Hill, I don’t know the man; to the best of my knowledge our paths have never crossed. But today he posted a piece that made me think, ‘Why doesn’t he get it?’
The information for the piece I’m referring to had probably been fed to him by disgruntled BBC journos. It seems that Edwina Hart, the minister for Economy, Science and Transport does not give live interviews, everything must be pre-recorded. The piece on Wales Eye contained much harrumphing about ‘democracy’ and ‘accountabilty’ but none of those expressing their concerns to Hill understood the real reason for Hart not giving live interviews – the truth is, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. And she’s not the only one. Let me explain.
Back in January I posted this, about a statement made by Alun Davies, at the time Minister for Natural Resources and Food, trying to explain why he was taking money from Welsh farmers and transferring it to ‘rural development projects’, i.e. subsidising good-lifers, hippies, Greens and others Wales would be better off without. Here’s a link to the excruciating footage of a squirming, stuttering, Alun Davies telling us why he has decided to do this. (Skip past DET’s intro to 2:03.) The thing to note here is the two civil servants flanking Davies, like prison officers with the defendant in the dock, making sure chummy don’t do nuffin stupid.
After watching Davies’s performance I gave him the benefit of the doubt by thinking that he didn’t believe what he was saying, or that he may not even have understood the full implications of what he was saying, and that he was simply repeating, parrot-fashion, what someone had told him to say. The civil servants were there to make sure he didn’t succumb to a debilitating attack of conscience or patriotism that might have rendered him unuseable.
In short, he was no more than a ventriloquist’s dummy, and the same applies to other ‘ministers’ in the absurdly named ‘Welsh Government’. This is why Edwina Hart doesn’t give live interviews – it’s because she can only repeat what she’s been told to say in a recording that can be re-started when she fluffs her lines. Because, obviously, live interviews run the risk of her being asked questions she cannot answer about policies she had no part in formulating.
The piece in Wales Eye was prompted by Hart’s announcement of the Newport by-pass, welcomed by very few in Wales (none that I can see outside of Cardiff). The clue to Hart’s camera shyness is that chancellor George Osborne has been consistently urging the ‘Welsh Goverment’ to improve the M4: here on November 29, 2011; April 3, 2013; March 19, 2014 (and there have been other occasions). Make no mistake, this was a decision taken in London; but rather than have London fund it, the ‘Welsh Government’ was given new powers to get into debt! Once the details were worked out the scheme was passed on to civil servants in Wales, who then coached Hart in her delivery. Result: Wales will get at least £1bn into debt, other projects around the country will be shelved, and all to facilitate the flow of English goods into Wales. Wasn’t that good of Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne, children?
Because believe me, that’s what will happen. Improved communications mean that ‘peripheral’ areas can be served and supplied from further away. Always. Take the example of the A55 in the north. Great benefits were promised from this ‘Highway of Opportunity’ by Wyn Roberts et al, but one of the first changes to materialise was the Post Office transferring its sorting office from Bangor to Chester. And the PO was not alone. Once the M4 is improved, depots serving the south from Cardiff and Newport will start to be lost because, for example, if south Wales and the west of England can both be supplied from its Avonmouth depot then Tesco won’t keep its depot in Magor open. In a colonial economy such as Wales, where the overwhelming majority of retailers, utilities, major contractors, financial services, etc., etc., are headquartered in England, improved communications always means job losses. So we are paying £1bn for the economic benefit of England! Welcome to devolved government, ‘Welsh solutions for Welsh problems’.
The bigger problem, as I’ve hinted above, is civil servants operating in Wales but taking orders from London. I have dealt with this in countless posts, often when I write about planning and housing. I remind people that, despite a cupboard in Cardiff, the Planning Inspectorate is an executive agency of the Department for Communities and Local Government in London. The ‘Welsh Government’s own StatsWales also answers to the DCLG. The housing directorates that control social housing and other areas are also subject to the DCLG. They have a presence in Wales, and a ‘relationship’ with Welsh ministers, but it’s a ventriloquist and dummy relationship. This is why Carl Sargeant always looks out of his depth when dealing with LDPs, because just like Edwina Hart he has difficulty remembering details about policies and decisions he had no hand in determining.
It also helps explain why the EU funding has been squandered. In the south it has been wasted on professional grant-chasers, invariably English, who, instead of combating poverty and deprivation, have celebrated it, made a political and social cause of it, in order to secure funding and careers for themselves. As for those they are supposed to be helping . . . well, they’re only a bunch of losers anyway! In the west and the north the EU funding has been used to subsidise the same people who will benefit from the announcement made by Alun Davies back in January. That’s because the complete colonisation of rural Wales faces one last obstacle – too much land is still owned by the natives, farmers and the like. So fund the good-lifers and the Greens to buy land for fluffy environmental projects, protect our countryside from nasty over-grazing (i.e. farming), and let’s turn rural and coastal Wales into a land fit for the jodhpured heroes of the English middle class, escaping those frightful, multi-racial cities.
All of which makes devolution the biggest load of old bollocks in Welsh political history. We had less interference from London back in the 1950s before we had a Welsh Office or a Secretary of State than we have today, fifteen years into devolution. Because back then we were considered no threat and so we were just left to get on with things. That all changed in the 1960s, as did London’s attitude towards us. The long term policy decided upon was colonisation leading to assimilation. Devolution is just another stage in that process. We have the delusion of a ‘government’ in Cardiff, but the big decisions are taken in London. All part of the wider strategy for Wales: turn Cardiff into one of the more agreeable English provincial cities; allow the north east to merge into England’s north west; oversee the managed decline of the rest of the south (west and north of Cardiff); use rural and coastal Wales as retirement and recreation areas for England.
And that’s why Edwina Hart doesn’t give live interviews – because she’s just a ventriloquist’s dummy. But maybe no more a dummy than those who think this M4 project is good for Wales. Or those who can’t see what’s being done to this country.
Wales is a small country, and once you start delving into the darker recesses of public life you uncover organisations of which you’ve never heard, you discover avenues of questionable funding, and you see names cropping up over and over again. This interconnectedness is not healthy; especially when so many of the shadowy groups and individuals influencing political decisions in Wales have minimal knowledge of our country and serve agendas that are dismissive of or hostile towards the best interests of the Welsh nation.
Everywhere you look in the public life of Wales you find English-run organisations of limited or negligible benefit to Welsh people yet enjoying wholly disproportionate political influence and seemingly unlimited funding. In fact, the more I study how Wales is run, the clearer it becomes how badly the interests of the indigenous Welsh are served. Seventeen years on, those who voted devolution into existence are a forgotten and neglected people.
Here are some examples that should help explain what I’m condemning.
In my previous post I dealt with the bright young things of the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre. Though as questions remained unanswered about the structure of the group I sent an e-mail to the parent body, the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales (an object lesson in short, snappy names, these people). The reply, from Diana Clark, Executive Officer, began, ‘Dear Roy, I hope you are keeping well’. I don’t know the woman, so the unwarranted familiarity was mildly offensive. Recovering my composure I perused the information Ms Clark supplied. On the left you will see the management team, though I have no idea why this can’t be made available on the website. Maybe some of these names will register with readers. The chief executive seems to be yet another fairly recent arrival in our country, who also serves on PONT . . .
I know, you’ve never heard of PONT, and neither had I. The acronym stands for Pori, Natur a Threftadaeth (Grazing, Nature and Heritage), here’s a link to their website. It appears to be yet another publicly-funded environmentalist group with a fig leaf Welsh presence to disguise its real intention, which seems to be curbing ‘over-grazing’, perhaps a euphemism for farming (though Georges Monbiot’s name is not on the website). I assume PONT is still in existence, for I see ‘Copyright 2014’ at the foot of the page, but no Annual Report after 2010. If PONT is still in existence, and still receiving funding from the ‘Welsh’ Government (as shown on other Annual Reports), there should be a more recent Annual Report available.
Maybe PONT had a hand in persuading Alun Davies, recently sacked Minister for Environment and Food in the ‘Welsh’ Government to reduce funding to our farmers and transfer it to “rural development projects” back in January. In other words, to Greens, hippies and other invaders who don’t give a toss about us Welsh. Note how the department name even avoids using the words ‘agriculture’ or ‘farming’. More on Alun Davies later.
Returning to the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, the over-familiar Ms Clark also provided me with the company structure of her organisation (click on panel to enlarge). All fairly straightforward, and easy enough to understand, even for those who don’t like flowcharts. I was however drawn to the mention of Autumn Peaks down towards the bottom, and described as a ‘dormant trading company’, so I did a little investigating.
The first thing I discovered was that the name given is incorrect. According to Companies House the correct name is Autumn Peak Ltd., based at ‘The Nature Centre, Fountain Road, Tondu, Bridgend’, and that it is still active with the next Returns due on November 8th this year. (The company number is 03262690.) Yet it is described in the 2013 WTSWW Accounts thus: “It (the WTSWW charity) also wholly owns a dormant subsidiary, Autumn Peaks Ltd which also operates two charities as inactive companies, Glamorgan Wildlife Trust Ltd and Wildlife Trust West Wales Ltd”.
Turning to DueDil I learned that the very forward Ms Clark became Autumn Peak’s Company Secretary on February 11th, 2008. The only other directors being Dr. Ruth Watkins and Mr Peter Gerald Hunter. There have been thirteen directors since the company was formed in 1996, by the Glamorgan Wildlife Trust Ltd, all of them now in their 60s, 70s and 80s, apart from the aforementioned Ms Clark who, at 55, is a mere slip of a gel, which may account for her flibbertigibbet attitude in dealing with business correspondence.
Of more interest were the figures provided on Autumn Peak by DueDil, which suggest that as a ‘trading company’ it was not a great success. By December 2000 it was well up Shit Creek with total liabilities of £170,000. How did a nature reserve run up debts like this? Did this ruinous adventure pave the way for the merger in April, 2002 with Wildlife Trust, West Wales Ltd? Was public funding used to resolve the situation?
In the flowchart you will see another company mentioned, this one still active, DWT Ltd. It was not straightforward to track down because, again, the company name is given wrongly; it is in fact DWT (Enterprises) Ltd, company number 02702793. Registered at the same Bridgend address as Autumn Peak Ltd, and incorporated on April 4th, 1992, over four years before the ill-fated Autumn Peak.
This subsidiary is described thus in the 2013 Accounts: “The Charity (the WTSWW) owns the whole of the issued ordinary share capital of DWT (Enterprises) Ltd, a company registered in Wales (Company No: 2702793). This subsidiary is used for non-primary purpose trading activities – namely the provision of holiday accommodation on nature reserves,
catering for visitors and the retailing of bought-in goods to visitors”. The company secretary is Gillian Clark.
The chart for DWT (Enterprises) Ltd suggests that it took on the debts of Autumn Peak and has limped along ever since. While not as far up Shit Creek as Autumn Peak managed to get it has definitely turned into that side stream with liabilities in excess of assets for the past four years.
The third company listed in the flowchart is ‘WTSWW Ltd’, a name that, again, will get you nowhere unless you have the full name, which is of course, The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales Ltd. The company number is 04398959, and it’s a private company limited by guarantee and listed as a non-trading company in the business of “Botanical and zoological gardens and nature reserves activities”.
The chart for WTSWW Ltd looks pretty healthy; cash in the bank of £910,936 and net worth of over £2.5m. Though this may be a little misleading as Companies House makes reference to nine outstanding mortgages, which almost certainly accounts for the bulk of the assets. The company secretary is, again, Ms Diana Gillian Clark. In fact she is listed as company secretary for five companies; in addition to the three mentioned here, we can add The Wildlife Trust (West Wales) Ltd and The Glamorgan Wildlife Trust Ltd. She took on all five posts in January and February 2008.
The WTSWW is also a registered charity, number 1091562. And it’s there you can find the most recent set of accounts. The accounts confirm, under ‘Tangible Fixed Assets’ just under £1.5m in ‘Freehold Nature Reserves’ Among a multiplicity of other fascinating facts contained therein my eye was drawn again to the name DWT (Enterprises) Ltd (the still active trading arm), where I learnt that this company returned a trading loss of £5,035 yet spent £137,205 on staff costs! I shall repeat that for the hard of reading: This company spent over 137 grand employing staff who obviously possess as much commercial nous as your average Labour politician or, for that matter, Third Sector scrounger. In total – salaries, wages, social security and pension costs – the Wildlife Trust for South and West Wales spent £546,899 on staff. So where did it come from . . . cos it sure as hell didn’t come from the ‘trading arms’!
Donations and Gifts amounted to £106,685; Legacies came to £266,444; Fundraising brought in 72,197; and Grants £970,712. Of the latter figure (p25) the greater part comes, by one route or another, from the ‘Welsh’ Government. One grant I would like more information on is the one listed simply as ‘S106’ for exactly £100,000. Update 21.07.14: It seems that S106 refers to a community infrastructure levy paid by developers to local authorities. So which local authority gave the WTSWW £100,000? This levy is supposed to be used for community benefits – how does that apply in this case? There may be a good reason why the Trust is so vague about the details. (Diolch i AK.)
The way the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales operates could be described thus. It persuades old dears not to leave all their money to cats homes; it begs from anyone else with money, including the ‘Welsh’ Government; but the WTSWW raises very little itself of the cash it spends on buying up parcels of Wales in order to provide further employment and recreation for its friends. Now this might be acceptable if the work done was beneficial to the Welsh people, but it’s not. Though if the ‘Welsh’ Government does deem this work to be important then, rather than throwing money at people who clearly couldn’t run a whelk stall, why don’t they do it themselves and provide employment for the people they claim to represent?
If the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales was a private company it would have gone bankrupt long ago. But it’s not a private company, and it has a great advantage over private companies in an unending supply of funding from external sources. Which means that these hectoring and manipulative poseurs can be nonchalant with how they spend that money, which leads to trading arms that run up massive debts, or subsidising the beach bums of the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre and other holiday camps for the English middle class.
Many of you will have missed the news that Nick Bennett is the new Public Services Ombudsman for Wales. ‘Who the hell is he?’ I hear you shout. Well, for some years prior to taking on his new job he was, from July 2006, chief executive of Community Housing Cymru, the umbrella organisation for housing associations. Reading of Mr Bennett’s new appointment made me remember my only contact with him.
It came in a rather strange way, just before Christmas 2010. I had sent a letter for publication to the Wasting Mule. In it I asked Nick Bennett why Welsh housing associations were taking in criminals and other undesirables from England. The letter was not published but instead I received a remarkable e-mail from Pat English, the Mule‘s Letters Editor, which began: “Mr Jones, here are the detailed answers to your points, from Nick Bennett …”
In over forty years of writing to newspapers and other publications I have never received a response in that manner. In his lengthy reply that followed Pat English’s intro one phrase Bennett used confirmed for me that Welsh housing associations are linked to and co-operating with their English counterparts. For in among the denials and unconvincing excuses was this revelatory gem: “There are over two million people on waiting lists for social housing . . . “ ‘Over two million’ – in Wales! For this, remember, was written by the chief executive of Community Housing Cymru.
So what else do we know about Nick Bennett? Well, from November 2000 to October 2002 he was a special adviser (spad) to Mike German, one-time leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Notional Assembly. Then (on his Linkedin front page) there is a gap until April 2004, when he becomes a director of Cwmni Cyfathrebu Bute Communications Ltd, company number 05076125. The other directors were Professor John Last and a Mr Alun Davies. The professor, originally from Liverpool, and a retired academic, is still a busy man, serving on the St. Asaph Diocesan Board of Finance and the Bodelwyddan Castle Trust. The panel (right) is taken from the Glyndŵr University website, for Professor Last is a former governor. A perfect exemplar for those who populate the upper reaches of ‘Welsh’ public life. The other director is of course, Alun Davies AM, the recently sacked Minister for Environment and Food.
Let’s look at recent Welsh political history to see if it can offer any clues to Nick Bennett’s career. From 2000 to 2003 there was a Labour-Lib Dem coalition down Cardiff docks, in which his boss Mike German was Deputy First Minister. This would have allowed spad Bennett to put himself about, to ‘network’ and ‘touch base’ with those who mattered, especially in the Labour Party. This probably accounts for him going into business with Alun Davies. From 2003 to 2007 Labour had an overall majority, so we can be certain that his friendship with rising star Davies didn’t do him any harm when he applied for the job of Group Chief Executive at Community Housing Cymru. Coming up to date, Bennett was appointed to the post of Public Services Ombudsman in March 2014, when Alun Davies, his former business partner, was still a popular and influential minister in the ‘Welsh’ Government. Naught but coincidences, of course.
Having mentioned Bennett’s earlier business venture with Alun Davies, Bute Communications, it seems only right and fair to mention another; one that looks suspiciously like another ‘trading arm’ of a publicly-funded Third Sector body. It is called – for it still exists – ‘Community Housing Cymru – Policy and Research Ltd’. The graph suggests another great example of Third Sector ‘enterprise’. Current liabilities exactly match current assets, with net assets (i.e. book value) of £1, and a turnover of considerably less than your average whelk stall.
And now Nick Bennett is the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales. Within his jurisdiction will be all his old friends in the housing associations, who can be guaranteed to generate many complaints. Those bodies that he assured me do not import criminals, ‘problem families’ and other riff-raff from England (though he was unwilling to put it in writing in the Wasting Mule). His years spent smooching politicos will probably ensure that no one with good political connections will ever feel the wrath of his office. Welcome to the nest of vipers that is public life in Wales!
This is a truly amazing system, one I have written about over many years. A sphere of Welsh life run by, and for the sole benefit of, those with little business acumen and weak links to Wales (but often strong connections to the Labour Party).
Politicians – Labour, Plaid Cymru and Liberal Democrat – see nothing wrong in showering these incompetents with billions of pounds of public funding to do what could be done cheaper, more efficiently, and with more accountability, by either the private or the public sector. As an example of the amounts involved, since 1999 over one billion pounds has been given, from a single funding stream (Social Housing Grant), to housing associations.
Whereas in healthily functioning democracies commercial interests spend money lobbying politicians and trying to influence legislation for their own financial gain, this being Wales – where private enterprise and commercial activity is regarded with the greatest suspicion – the government actually funds Left wing and Green pressure groups to produce ideas to be turned into legislation that then results in further support and funding for those very same groups!
When the inevitable corruption, incompetence and financial disasters occur, the ‘Welsh’ Government’s natural reaction is to hush it up and / or pour in more money. Made easier by the absence of a national media capable of anything more demanding than regurgitating press releases, and self-justifying Third Sector reports, as ‘News’.
This is the road to national destitution, and explains why Wales is getting poorer, year on year, compared to just about every other part of Europe. Also less democratic. This system must be dismantled if Wales and the Welsh people are to prosper.
As someone who, in his younger days, collected ‘pets’ from the ponds and waste ground of north Swansea, I have always taken an interest in wildlife, and indeed (in the phase that followed the pet collecting) wild life. Many a carefree boyhood hour was spent catching grass snakes, collecting newts, and sneaking up on lizards to attempt that perfect catch – on the body (for they detach their tails) but not so roughly as to harm them. Or it was summers in Port Eynon crabbing and observing the life of the shoreline and the rock pools.
So I was naturally drawn to the story of porpoises killing dolphins in Cardigan Bay. Reading it I learnt that this behaviour has been observed by volunteers at the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre in New Quay. So – you know me – wanting to learn more about this outfit I went to the CBMWC website.
The website – entirely in English, of course – is quite open about what it does, who funds it, and who runs it. The volunteers for 2014 include Milly, “part of a big, outdoorsy family” (not them Swansea dossers again?). Lea, who “grew up in the Swiss countryside”. Abigail from Worcester who has “attended a dormouse survey training day”. (Something of which I can only dream.) Rebecca, who “spent holidays in Corwall and Wales”. Then there’s Josephine from Manchester, Gaby from Canada, Ashleigh from “the Midlands”, Sophie from Suffolk, Will from West Yorkshire, even one or two (out of 17) who may even be Welsh. Among “the CBMWC Team” (of 14) there is one who seems to be Welsh, then there’s Barry the wino, a host of ‘locals’ who’ve all moved to Wales, and young Ben, who grew up on the East African Coast. (Of course he’s not bleck, don’t be silly!) It’s all so frightfully English that they could have stepped from the pages of some Enid Blyton tale of middle class youngsters having a jolly good time in darkest Wales.
Before anyone says that these people do good work, or are no harm to anyone; and that I am a wicked old nationalist for picking on them, just remember this. The Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre and its allies among the Fleece Jacket Fascists form a lobby that – among other things – would like to extend conservation zones around our coasts, putting Welsh people out of work so that they can enjoy their hobby jobs pursue vital marine research. In fact, they would like to turn rural and coastal Wales into one big playground for them and their friends. With no Welsh involvement . . . well, other than funding.
The CBMWC is some kind of subsidiary of the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales (WTSWW), so this was my next stop. Another packed, informative website . . . until you try to find out who actually runs the show. For while the website gives a link to the names of the Trustees I could find nothing to tell me who is responsible for the day to day running of the Trust. A major omission. Especially as the Trust receives funding from The National Lottery, the People’s Postcode Lottery, and two lots of funding from the EU, via the Wales Co-operative Centre and the Wales European Funding Office. Is it lawful for an organisation receiving EU funding to withhold from the public the names of its management? It should go without saying that the WTSWW website is also in English only.
Returning to New Quay for a moment (to where, incidentally, I can trace a paternal great-grandmother and a maternal great-great-grandfather), the CBMWC website tells us that the Centre is “funded by grants from Environment Wales (EW) and Natural Resources Wales” (NRW) (of Alun Davies fame). Environment Wales is a hotch-potch of Englandandwales fleece jacket gangs feeding at a trough topped up by the ‘Welsh’ Government, almost certainly with EU cash. But I was unable to find the dolphin watchers or their parent outfit listed among the grant recipients or the ‘Registered Project Links’. And, again, no clue given as to who runs Environment Wales. The picture was no better with Natural Resources Wales. The website contains no mention of grants, and doesn’t even offer a way of sending an e-mail or ‘phoning, for contact is limited to social media! Can it be right that a member of the public is unable to contact an organisation supported by EU funding?
Every area of the country has groups like the CBMWC, some national, others local: in Wales, but not of Wales. Existing as exclusive ex-pat outposts of the kind the English form in Spain and elsewhere. Social, cultural and financial impositions that we had better start challenging before they become dominant; to the point where it becomes impossible to walk on a Welsh hill, or through a Welsh wood; swim off a Welsh beach, or visit some site important in our history, because it’s now owned and run by strangers – with funding provided by our government!
Appeals to the emotions aside, the real issue here is about hard cash, and how it’s used. About the waste of public funding on hobby jobs, for which the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre merely serves as an example. The CBMWC obviously attracts the well-heeled from England and beyond, but would anyone in Penrhiwceiber or Penygroes notice if the CBMWC closed tomorrow? Of course not, but EU funding was given to improve the lives of people in communities such as these. So henceforth, if the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre can survive on selling ice cream and fluffy dolphins, boat trips and donations, then fine, but no more public funding for it or any similar organisations.
The next round of EU funding must not be wasted on ephemeral and unnecessary projects simply because they generate good publicity; it must not be squandered on politically correct scams; it must not be spent on encouraging the Third Sector to make an industry of poverty and deprivation. Any application for funding should be asked one simple question: ‘Will there be direct and tangible benefits for Welsh people in terms of jobs, education and training, community benefits, social and cultural cohesion and other fields?’ Supporting projects that fail this test is merely funding colonisation.
Our Ukip tribune – for that’s what he is, even though few reading this will have voted for him – has been appointed to the European Parliament’s Development Committee. I am further informed (though I can’t find it myself, ‘Ynyswr’) that he wiill have special responsibility for aid to developing countries. Which is entirely fitting, considering his established concern for the Phillipines, and for employing, and indeed housing, our new friends from eastern Europe. Not only that, but there is also Gill’s links with Africa; to be specific, Ghana.
Information, some received and some unearthed from leads provided, suggest that I may have been rather lenient on Gill over that business of the tyre exports to Ghana, and the harm they might have done. To recap, for those joining the saga . . . when he were nobutalad Nathan Lee Gill, arrived in Anglesey with his Mormon family. On reaching adulthood he returned to Hull where he engaged in lucrative enterprises with his American Mormon brothers-in-law housing migrant workers. Solicitous of his Polish guests’ loneliness, and those cold winds coming off the North Sea, he housed them 8 or 12 to a room. For reasons yet to be satisfactorily established he came back to Anglesey, and from 2009 worked as PA to his Ukip MEP predecessor, John Bufton.
The tyres were found on his parents’ property, Bryn Aethwy, in Menai Bridge, while the property in Llangefni for which the report says a search warrant was issued, was Gill’s own home. The link with Ghana may have been provided by Gill’s fellow-Mormon Dennis Kofi Asumah, a Ghanaian who was living in Anglesey at the time, indeed he was a member of the local Ukip branch. Also involved – according to another informant – was Gill’s brother in law, Brian Lynn Quilter, of Dolwyddelan. (All explained in posts over the past couple of months.)
In my earlier posts I mentioned that worn tyres imported from Europe – and for the purposes of this article, however much it might offend some, the UK is counted as being part of ‘Europe’ – were one of the biggest killers on Ghana’s roads. Now, following the directions of ‘Ynyswr’, I learn that tyres imported from Europe (inc. UK) are also blamed for the increase in dengue fever. As this World Health Organisation report explains. In fact, not only does the trade in used tyres increase the incidence of dengue fever in Ghana and other parts of Africa, it also helps the disease spread to areas previously unaffected, including Europe.
To explain . . . dengue fever is the most virulent mosquito-borne viral disease in the world. Due to increased travel and other factors the incidence of the disease has increased 30-fold in the past 50 years. There are up to 50 million infections a year, with 22,000 deaths, mainly among children. Scrap tyres are ideal mosquito incubators as they absorb heat and trap rainwater, leaf litter and micro-organisms. Of course, mosquitoes don’t limit themselves to dengue fever; so tyre dumps can also increase the risk of encephalitis, malaria, yellow fever, equine encephalitis and St. Louis encephalitis. Spraying tyre dumps with insecticides is environmentally risky and costly. Even if done, it’s almost impossible to reach the heart of the tyre piles where the mosquitoes breed.
There are two reasons why I’m returning to this often overlooked episode in the glittering business career of Nathan Lee Gill MEP. The first is that a number of people – one almost certainly a family member – have, on this blog and elsewhere, tried to interpret the tyres story as a business deal that cut a few corners to avoid the “red tape and government meddling” (i.e. laws) Gill and his kind hate so much. Making him out to be, at worst, a bit of a chancer, or even a Robin Hood figure – for the legislation being disregarded almost certainly came from ‘Europe’. (Boooo!) So, however you look at it, it’s a victimless crime. No, it’s not.
As I’ve explained, many lives would have been put at risk, some perhaps lost, had those tyres reached Ghana. Proving yet again that Nathan Lee Gill is an irresponsible shite who will do just about anything to make money, wilfully blind to the consequences of his actions. He may already have blood on his hands, for how do we know there weren’t previous tyre dumps on Anglesey, that made it to Ghana?
Now, if my informant, ‘Ynyswr’, is correct, Gill has been given some responsibility by the European Parliament for aid to developing countries. You have to ask if this is some kind of joke. Here is a man with a record of dishonesty and hypocrisy, a man prepared to make money out of endangering lives in a third world country, yet now he is given responsibility for representing in developing countries a legislature he detests! One doesn’t need to be a soothsayer to predict that Nathan Lee Gill will take advantage of this opportunity to line his own pockets. Again.
P.S. I forgot to provide this link to Gill’s Declaration of Members’ Financial Interests made to the European Parliament. It seems that this political innocent’s only source of income prior to boarding the gravy train was his salary from the political assistant job. You know, I think our boy’s mind goes all blank when confronted with forms – tax forms and the like – asking him to declare his income. Funny, that!
My previous post drew a number of comments and provided some interesting feedback via other media. It also inspired Councillor Neil McEvoy of Cardiff to make enquiries with housing associations in the south east. (Click panel to enlarge.) One who answered to the rattling cage was Hefina Rendle, Communications and Public Relations Manager at Tai Calon. (Some will remember that before joining Tai Calon in January 2012 Ms Rendle was a broadcast journalist with the BBC.)
I hadn’t previously heard of Tai Calon, it doesn’t appear among the housing associations I dealt with in my previous post, those listed as being in receipt of the Social Housing Grant (see table from previous post). Tai Calon was formed in July 2010 from Blaenau Gwent’s council housing stock, and cheerfully admits to receiving £19.67 million from the ‘Welsh’ Government, with more promised – until 2041! But if this money is not coming via the SHG, which funding stream is coughing up? Or perhaps the question should be – just how many funding streams are there for housing associations (and not just from the ‘Welsh’ Government)?
What I assume to be Tai Calon’s mission statement reads: “We have about 300 members of staff … from building trades to administrators and neighbourhood managers. We are committed to creating as many job and work opportunities as possible. We also aim to recruit locally as possibly. We try to use firms and suppliers from the area, keeping as much of the income we generate within Blaenau Gwent for the benefit of everyone who lives and works in the county”. “We aim to recruit locally as possibly”! Apart from the obvious error, Blaenau Gwent is the poorest area in the poorest country in Europe, it should be mandatory to recruit locals.
I’m getting a bit ahead of myself now, so let me return to the McEvoy – Rendle dialogue. A few tweets passed between them, I chipped in, drew a Christmas cracker aporhism from Ms Rendle, and we didn’t really get anywhere. But seeing as Neil McEvoy had asked about the CEO’s salary, I made a bee-line for the ‘Meet the Executive Team‘ page on the Tai Calon website.
The Chief Executive is Jen Barfoot, who is of course English (this being the Third Sector in Wales). In fact, of the four listed on the Executive Board (click to enlarge), three are English . . . so much for the promise of local recruitment. It often seems that the Third Sector in Wales exists for no better reason than to provide sinecures for thousands of English people who can’t cut it in the world of real business. Because wherever you look, from housing associations to health boards, from higher education to Tony Payne, the custodian of Caerffili Castle – who so clearly identifies with those who built the castle rather than with the horrid and inferior “Welshmen” beyond its walls – all you find are English third-raters clinging to the pendulous mammaries of Welsh public funding.
Tai Calon’s Board is rather more representative of the community of Blaenau Gwent, but scrolling down past Fred Davies, and Shirley, who lives in the house in which she was born in Nantyglo, we come to yet more teat tuggers. First, Debbie Green, Group Chief Executive at the Coastal Housing Group in Swansea, who “obtained a history degree from Cambridge and moved to Cardiff in 1988 to start her accountancy training with Deloittes and subsequently PWC. Since qualifying as a Chartered Accountant she has worked in finance roles connected with Lottery grant funding in the Arts Council of Wales, before moving to Chwarae Teg in 2001 as Director of Finance and Resources”. There, laid out for you, is the perfect Third Sector career path. But of more interest is the man we find at the bottom of the column, Steve Porter, co-opted onto the Board. Steve tells us he “enjoys living locally with his family in the South valleys”. Condescending crap that could only be written by another English immigrant with free Welsh milk all over his face.
The reason I find Steve Porter interesting is that he works for that behemoth in the world of Welsh social housing, the Wales and West Housing Association Ltd which, curiously, also receives funding from the English government. Between 2008 and 2013 Wales and West received a whopping £63 million in Social Housing Grant alone from the ‘Welsh’ Government. Alarming though that is, the real reason I homed in on smiling Steve is that his Tai Calon bio credits him with setting up ‘Cambria Maintenance Services Ltd’, described as a “subsidiary building company”. Subsidiary, that is, to Wales and West.
Nothing wrong with that if Cambria had been set up to maintain Wales and West’s housing stock, that’s no more than a local authority would have done. But if that was the case, why not just call it the Maintenance Department of Wales and West? Why does Cambria need to be a fully commercial operation, registered with Companies House (Company Number 07389484)?
My concerns about Cambria Maintenance Services Ltd are encapsulated in this passage from the JobsinWales.com website (my underlining): “The company, with divisions in Cardiff and Holywell, Flintshire, has established an excellent reputation for its quality of workmanship and service to its customers. Cambria is an independent company run on a commercial basis and being part of the WWH Group provides it with considerable security as it doesn’t need to repeatedly tender for works and risk losing contracts”. How can Cambria be both “independent” and “part of the WWH group”.
It suggests to me that Cambria is an “independent company” that has its ‘bread and butter’ work guaranteed by publicly funded social housing; but, as a private company, it’s also free to chase the ‘jam’ of outside commercial work. Which gives Cambria the best of both worlds and an unfair advantage over competitors that must survive, without featherbedding, in the normal business environment. Is this how housing associations are supposed to operate? And it may not be confined to Cambria. For in among Wales and West’s ‘Services and Initiatives’ there’s Castell Catering, and Connect 24 Alarms.
Which raises the question of why Steve Porter was co-opted on to the Board of Tai Calon. My guess would be that if Cambria isn’t already working in Blaenau Gwent then it very soon will be. As might Wales and West, and Steve Porter himself. For in the dog-eat-dog world of housing associations Tai Calon is a chihuahua, Wales and West a pit bull. You read it here first, folks.
Cambria Maintenance Services is another example of Wales’ shadowy, almost Soviet-style ‘economy’, which promotes the illusion of a system based on competition and profitability, but at no real risk for many of those participating because they are underwritten by the State.
The social housing sector – and the Third Sector generally – is a monster sucking up funding and damaging our wider economic prospects. It is yet another example of the Labour Party pandering to the effects of poverty rather than tackling its causes. For if Wales had a stronger economy there would be more people buying their own homes and we wouldn’t need to pour such obscene sums into housing associations and their offshoots.
With such easy money to be made, so few questions asked, and with their documented experience in ‘housing’, I’m surprised that Nathan Gill and his brothers-in-law haven’t got involved in the housing association racket. It can only be a matter of time . . .
It’s taken about eight months, but I finally got the information I requested on the Social Housing Grant (SHG). Though let me make it clear that I attach no blame to the Housing and Regeneration section of the ‘Welsh’ Government or the Housing Directorate (which, despite being in Wales is, I believe, an outpost of the UK / England Department for Communities and Local Government); for both have been very helpful. It seems that in the first instance I was asking for too much information, which exceeded the obligations placed on government departments by the Freedom of Information Act, with the delay extenuated by me sending e-mails to someone who’d left his job but whose e-mail account was still open and accepting incoming e-mails!
As you might have guessed, I’m talking about housing associations, and more especially, how much they receive from the ‘Welsh’ Government through the SHG (click on panel to enlarge). In other words, public funding, money that could – with different priorities – be spent on other things. Between 2008 and 2013 housing associations in Wales were given £692,541,022.51. (I can give you the figure to the exact penny because that’s how it was given to me.) However you look at it, 692 million is a lot of moolah. It could have built a few hospitals, 12 Newtown bypasses, covered most the M4 upgrading, re-opened the Carmarthen-Aberystwyth railway line, or funded a lot of other projects around the country. And remember, that’s just the money received from one funding scheme over six years. There is also the funding prior to 2008 to be considered, funding from other sources, plus the loans that housing associations are allowed to negotiate. Putting it all together makes it clear that social housing is big business, and accounts for a lot of money in a small country like Wales.
Before looking more closely at some of the individual recipients of the ‘Welsh’ Government’s largesse, maybe I should give some background and explain what kind of beast we are dealing with. Anyone over the age of forty-five will remember that social housing used to be the responsibility of the local council; in other words, council houses. Housing associations were usually small organisations supplementing the work of local councils in catering for specific groups, be they disabled ex-servicemen, Jewish widows or distressed gentlefolk. Then came the hammer-blow of Right to Buy legislation (Housing Act 1980) coupled with the inability of councils to use the funding raised to build replacement dwellings. Housing associations were then encouraged into a cannibalistic feeding frenzy that left us with fewer, but bigger organisations while – in Wales at least – they were also stopped from buying existing properties. This seemed to serve a number of purposes: keeping up the stock of social housing, providing work for private builders (as opposed to councils’ own workforces) and, in rural and coastal areas of Wales, ensuring that no cottages or houses that might prove attractive to English buyers became social housing. I believe that my suspicions about the purpose and activities of housing associations began around this time.
The housing associations we see today are either the result of one merger after another of the old units, or else shiny new organisations resulting from councils selling off their housing stocks. All tend to be ‘not for profit’ Industrial and Provident Societies registered with the Financial Conduct Authority, which makes it rather more difficult, and expensive, to get information on them than if they were registered with the Charity Commission or Companies House. (Though there are usually abbreviated accounts on their websites.) In addition, they are not covered by the Freedom of Information Act, even though councils’ housing departments are! Odd, really, that it’s so difficult to get information on bodies receiving so much public funding.
The breakdown, by housing association, can be found below (in PNG format, click to enlarge); or here in Spreadsheet format, with links to each HA website available by clicking on the HA name in the left-hand column. I would suggest opening either file in another window to better follow what I’m going to say. Or just use it to check up on your local housing association. (Right click on the panel, then click on ‘Open link in new window’ or however your browser words it.)
A quick scan reveals that Wales & West Housing Association got the largest amount in the period covered by the table, no less than £63 million. I had cause to mention Wales and West not long ago, when I learnt that it will borrow up to £25m from the UK government, through the Affordable Housing Guarantees, “to build 251 homes in Wales”. (Left, click to enlarge.) Why is the UK government loaning money to a Welsh housing association to build homes in Wales? It doesn’t make sense. The other big gainers are all familiar to me, though some of the smaller ones are eyebrow-raisers, and I always get suspicious when I see ‘Wales’ in the name of any organisation, for it often means an English outfit with a Welsh presence that may be nothing more than a post-box.
Having mentioned mergers earlier, Cymdeithas Tai Clwyd and Cymdeithas Tai Eryri have recently merged to form Grŵp Cynefin which, by happy chance, I wrote about quite recently. The episode in Tywyn tells us quite a lot about how housing associations really operate. In my experience they are devious, if not dishonest; promoting themselves as the answer to society’s ills while operating as ruthless and almost secretive commercial entities. Not only is it difficult to get information about housing associations but what they do put out is often misleading, sometimes deliberately so. Take this sentence, highlighted on page 12 of the 2013 – 14 annual report of Cymdeithas Tai Cantref, which operates out of Castell Newydd Emlyn and covers an area from Machynlleth to just south of Fishguard, and inland as far as Llandovery. Note the use of the deliberately misleading term ‘people living locally’ in the hope that anyone reading it will think it means locals. It does not.
Go down to page 16 and you will read this: “To build new homes, Cantref need (sic) to generate more income and rely less on Social Housing Grant. A successful new initiative to Cantref this year was the introduction of our new student accommodation. We were successful with the submission of 65 units to be part of the Welsh Government’s Revenue Grant programme”. An interesting passage in a number of ways. For it identifies yet another income stream from the ‘Welsh’ Government, given as funding for what is clearly not social housing. Or to put it another way, the almost inevitable coming together of two ways in which Welsh public funding is used for the benefit of England, social housing and higher education.
Soon after starting on this post I bought the latest issue of our weekly rag, the Cambrian News, where I came across this story, involving an outfit to which I just introduced you, Grŵp Cynefin. This time the project is in Harlech, a place close to my heart from having spent a couple of years there, in good company, in good pubs, wearing flares and hair over my shoulders . . . I even made it to the Coleg once or twice. (I also met the missus there, but we don’t want to spoil a happy memory, do we.) Anyway, click to enlarge and read it for yourself.
Warms the cockles of your heart, no? What callous brute could possibly object to sheltered housing for adults with learning difficulties? Well, me, for one, if there is no local demand for such housing. Because when I read that story I reminded myself that certain agencies in England would pay handsomely to relocate their clients to Wales. If that’s what will happen in Harlech then it will make this development little more than a housing association irresponsibly increasing the load on the Welsh NHS.
The problem here is obvious, it extends across the social housing sector. There is too much knee-jerk reaction on the part of politicos at all levels to requests for funding – with no thought to the bigger picture and the wider implications – when those making the requests exert emotional blackmail by pressing certain buttons. The biggest ‘button’ is social housing itself, beneath which can be found an array of secondary controls that include ‘sheltered housing for adults with learning difficulties’, ‘victims of domestic violence’, alien abductees, etc. (Go on, make up your own, I guarantee nobody will challenge it! It’s money for old rope.) All such requests for funding or planning should be answered by a simple question from our politicians: ‘Is there a demand from within the established local community for these properties?’ If no such demand exists, then funding, planning permission, and all other help should be refused.
Had this rule been followed, in tandem with a locals-only allocation policy, it would have saved lives and avoided many other tragedies, such as that which unfolded in Kidwelly not long ago, in properties owned by the Gwalia Group (£30 million raked in in the period covered). Gwalia housed Colin Batley and his paedophile gang; an appalling episode that reminds us of a darker side to social housing that the touchy-feely, politically correct, social conscience burdened hypocrites running our housing associations would rather not discuss; namely, providing accommodation for known criminals and undesirables from over the border, inflicting them on Welsh communities. Where does this leave the sanctimonious piffle about ‘being committed to serving our communities’? Yet more bollocks from housing associations.
The social housing sector is an unsustainable drain on the Welsh public purse. It soaks up vast amounts of money, providing more dwellings than are needed in many (usually rural) areas and often not enough in other (usually urban) areas. It is made up of semi-secret organisations that are – despite the public funding – private companies in all but name. Too often contracts are given to firms from outside the area of the contract or even from outside Wales, which results a) in a loss of income and jobs to local economies, b) projects taking longer than needed to complete, due to workers having to travel long distances, c) lives put at risk as workers pile into vans for the mad rush home around the time children are leaving school. And all this being done while operating an allocations system that prioritises those who have never set foot in Wales over native-born Welsh. A monster encouraged for 15 years by a political party that is ideologically and emotionally hostile to commercial enterprise and initiative, instead funding its cronies to run housing associations and other third sector chimerae in the hope that the faffings of these charlatans might be mistaken for an economy at work. The truth is, a well-regulated private sector could meet most of Wales’ indigenous social housing Wales needs at a fraction of the cost of housing associations. Housing associations are a drain on the Welsh economy for no discernible return – get rid of them!