Oh, the joy! the euphoria! Didn’t you feel the surge of national pride, the collective Cymric breast heaving, positively heaving, at the joyous news? – Lonely Planet declares ‘North’ Wales to be the bestest al fresco fun fair around.
So what exactly has ‘North’ Wales won? Well, it seems that northern Wales came fourth in the Top Regions category of the best destinations to visit in 2017. (The other categories being countries and cities.)
Northern Wales came fourth in the section subtitled “offbeat destinations demanding our attention”. Mmm, anyone who’s visited Betws y Coed or Caernarfon, Llangollen or Beddgelert, will find the use of that word ‘offbeat’ rather bizarre (and I haven’t mentioned the coastal resorts!). But, anyway, read the Lonely Planet piece for yourself.
So what are the other “offbeat destinations” with which north Wales was competing? In first place came Chocquequirao, “hidden across the deep Apurimac Valley . . . the last Inca refuge from the conquistadors”. Which makes this Andean location sound fascinating, and a worthy winner.
Second was Taranaki in New Zealand, which is certainly off the beaten track, confirmed with Lonely Planet‘s description it being a “remote location”. I shall return to the matter of tourism in New Zealand in a minute.
Then, one place ahead of ‘North’ Wales, we find the Azores. Described by Lonely Planet as the “next Iceland” and as a result we are warned, ” . . . the secret won’t last: the Azores have seen a 31% increase in tourism over the last 12 months, so visit in the 2017 sweet spot before things really take off.”
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Now I don’t know much about the Lonely Planet publication other than that it gets a lot of publicity – certainly here in Wales, for every time we get a mention it seems to merit a big news splash – but who pays it any real attention? Maybe its target audience, which I’d guess is the English middle class and its gap year offspring. (I belong to neither category.)
And that’s because, I suspect, Lonely Planet sees its role in identifying ‘offbeat destinations’ before – as seems to be the fear with the Azores – these idyllic locales are discovered by hoi polloi demanding ‘El fish and chips, Pedro – and pronto!’. Without, I hope, sounding snobbish, this is perfectly understandable.
In September, Mrs J and I took one of our regular trips to Scotland, and no matter where we went, from the Robert Burns Museum to Sweetheart Abbey to Threave (origin, tref) Castle, we met tourists from all over the world, but nowhere we went was overwhelmed in the way that parts of Wales so often are.
Of course Edinburgh can feel a bit ‘crowded’, but it’s bustling and cosmopolitan, it’s energising . . . and a hell of an improvement on being surrounded by miserable Brummies on a wet Sunday in Barmouth. These people milling around Princes Street and the Royal Mile are also spending lots of money (helped by the fact they’re not slumming it in ‘a caravan down the beach’), and when they go home they’ll tell their friends how wonderful Scotland is.
Scotland gets a better class of tourist, and certainly more overseas tourists. These even spend more per head (heid?) than overseas tourists to Wales. The figures for 2015 bear this out, for we see that while Scotland saw 2.6 million visits from overseas Wales welcomed just 970,000. In Scotland, the average spend per head was £651, compared with £422 in Wales. Giving a total overseas spend in Scotland of £1,695m against our £410m, less than a quarter of Scotland’s income.
There is of course a historic explanation for this. When railways became capable of transporting large numbers of working class people in relative comfort, and for prices they could afford, this advance placed Wales, unlike Scotland, within reach of many of England’s cities and industrial regions. Though that does not explain why we should still be providing holidays on the cheap, going for quantity rather than quality, 150 years later.
There are other, perhaps equally prosaic, explanations for Scotland attracting more overseas tourists and fewer English day-trippers than Wales. Distance being a pretty obvious one. Also, Scotland is much larger than Wales, with a greater variety of scenery. Scotland has airports with regular long haul flights to destinations around the world. Finally, Scotland has a beautiful and historic capital city.
But none of these explain the lack of ambition in the ‘Welsh’ tourism industry. Nor should they be accepted as excuses.
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After my Caledonian digression let me return to what I hinted at earlier when mentioning Taranaki, second among the ‘Top Regions’. A friend of mine has visited New Zealand a few times; it’s not cheap, but then, he’s a wealthy bachelor. I remember him telling me about one particular trip to the Southern Alps. He had to book in advance, prove he was healthy and insured, and as they liked the cut of his jib he was taken on a trek through the mountains lasting a few days.
The Southern Alps are protected by various National Parks and other forms of legislation to the point where the chances of a coachload of drunks turning up and making nuisances of themselves is close to zero . . . unlike on Snowdon, for example.
Returning to the Lonely Planet review of ‘North’ Wales we see that what got us noticed was zip wires, wave machines and subterranean trampolines. It seems logical to conclude that if we have more of these, and maybe a water chute running from the top of Cader Idris down to Dolgellau, or Talyllyn, we might achieve the coveted third place next year. Dare we dream of second place!
Grouped with the last refuge of the Incas, the as yet unspoilt Azores, and the majesty of the Southern Alps, a few big boys’ toys scattered about the north seem laughably incongruous, and unworthy. Especially when you read under the ‘Responsible Travel’ heading, “At Lonely Planet sustainable and responsible have always been parts of our vocabulary.” ‘Sustainable’ and ‘responsible’ are words that have never tarnished the lexicon of ‘Welsh’ tourism.
Which I suppose exposes the central contradiction of tourism – ‘Come see this awe-inspiring place . . . and by so doing, help despoil it’. Which explains why I admire the New Zealand approach that realises beautiful and irreplaceable environments and landscapes such as we find in the Southern Alps need to be protected from tourism.
If the Southern Alps had been in Wales they would by now have been extensively and thoroughly ‘developed’, suffering regular visits by twat-like politicos spouting bollocks so vacuous and inane as to make Vacuity and Inanity rise up in indignation. But on the bright side, there would be local employment – collecting garbage.
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When you look around Wales at the ugliness tourism has inflicted, the anglicisation it has brought, the environmental degradation, the social disruption, you have to ask what sort of people are we to have allowed this.
The answer is that we remain what we’ve been for maybe 800 years – a people with no real control over our country. Tourism is a perfect example, not only does it serve England’s interests, but ‘Welsh’ tourism is largely run by, and therefore profits, English people. Why should they give a toss about wrecking our homeland?
What’s best for England will always prevail over the best interests of us Welsh, and devolution has entrenched this system of exploitation even more firmly. I recently coined a term for this phenomenon, devocolonialism. In a future post I shall expand on what I put out recently in a tweet.
I feel this needs to be done because anyone believing that devolution has achieved anything positive for Wales needs a cold shower of facts.
My previous post dealt with offshore property company Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd and housing associations leasing properties from it, though I made passing reference – just a paragraph – to another publicly funded housing association, Pembrokeshire Housing, and Mill Bay Homes, the latter a subsidiary of the former that builds houses to sell to anyone.
This brief mention was enough to send someone scampering to Hugh James, the ‘Welsh’ Government’s favourite legal firm. (Indeed, to judge by the amount of business Carwyn’s civil servants put the way of Hugh James you’d think there were no other lawyers in Wales.) And so on Friday evening I received another threatening letter from Ms Tracey Singlehurst-Ward.
It says: “You are required to remove the statement from the website and any other location (either in hard or soft copy) in which you have published it by no later than 9am on Monday 23 October 2016. (Monday is actually the 24th.) You are also required to confirm in writing by way of undertaking that the allegation will not be repeated.” Read it for yourself.
You will see that the period of grace I am allowed in which to recant left me no opportunity to seek advice from other members of Ms Singlehurst-Ward’s profession. So I have had to rely on my own counsel, which directed me to refuse capitulation but to amend the offending paragraph. If it still offends, anyone, hard luck, because that’s all you’re getting.
In many ways, Mill Bay Homes is a curious beast. To begin with, it is a Registered Social Landlord (No L124) and yet (as far as I can tell), it receives no funding from the ‘Welsh’ Government. But then, this is as it should be, for Mill Bay Homes does not build or rent social housing . . . so why is it a Registered Social Landlord?
The answer is that Mill Bay Homes ‘inherited’ its RSL number when Pembrokeshire Housing 2000 – a craft that never launched – changed its name to Mill Bay Homes in February 2012. After which Mill Bay Homes took off to become one of the leading house builders in the county, using money transferred from Pembrokeshire Housing – which of course does receive public funding.
This paragraph is directed to the ‘Welsh’ Government, more specifically, the Housing Directorate.
‘If Mill Bay Homes applied to become a Registered Social Landlord tomorrow you would, quite correctly, turn down the application for the obvious reason that MBH neither builds nor rents social housing. (This explains why it does not receive Social Housing Grant or other funding.) That being so, why do you allow MBH to retain the RSL number of its predecessor?’
Anomalies abound when we consider the relationship between Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes. We can even add Pembrokeshire County Council to the mix, for both have a close relationship with the local authority. Take, for example, this S106 agreement drawn up just before Christmas last year between MBH and the council.
The agreement deals with “four Social Rented Housing Units” and “two Intermediate Housing Units” in the Newton Heights development totalling some 55 properties at Kilgetty. Later in that document, in Schedule 4, we encounter the paragraph below.
“The RSL” has to be Pembrokeshire Housing, if only because Mill Bay Homes does not receive grant funding (and wouldn’t be buying from itself). Which means that, having transferred millions of pounds to Mill Bay Homes for it to build homes for sale, Pembrokeshire Housing will then use grant funding to buy one (or more?) of those properties.
I can’t help thinking that something ‘clever’ is going on here. Maybe too clever for old Jac. Another one for the Housing Directorate? So let me frame it as a question.
‘Publicly funded Pembrokeshire Housing shuffles money to its subsidiary, Mill Bay Homes. Mill Bay Homes builds private dwellings. Now it appears that Pembrokeshire Housing buys properties from Mill Bay Homes with grant funding.
Why doesn’t Pembrokeshire Housing just build its own social housing with the money it receives from the ‘Welsh’ Government for that express purpose?’
Come to that, how many social housing units could Pembrokeshire Housing have built with the millions it’s passed to Mill Bay Homes? Is there no demand in Pembrokeshire for more social housing? If not, why is Pembrokeshire Housing still receiving grant funding?
Something is not right down west. Money goes into Pembrokeshire Housing from various sources, gets mixed up, and comes out the other end, with over £6m going to MBH (by the end of the financial year 31.03.2015).
Yet we are asked to believe that none of this money comes from grants received from the ‘Welsh’ Government. In other words, it is not public funding. Maybe the source is rents received from PH’s tenants, or money from sales of social housing. But who paid for that housing in the first place?
All of Pembrokeshire Housing’s assets and income ultimately derive from the public purse. That being so, should any of it be used to build open market housing?
As I say above, my mention of Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes was little more than a passing reference in a piece about Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd, a company that owns a few thousand properties across southern Wales, from Llanelli eastwards, so let us return to the main dish.
I contacted the Coastal Housing Group in Swansea, one of the housing associations leasing properties from Link Holdings, but the exchange ended with the message below. Clearly, the shutters have gone up.
Looking at this latest threat from Hugh James I can’t help wondering who exactly triggered it. Was it really Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes? If so, then they were a bit slow off the mark, because the post had been up for a week before Ms Singlehurst-Ward swung into action.
Picture it, gentle reader; there I am, blogging merrily away, exposing the scandal that housing associations are dealing with property companies registered in tax havens, and that money is passing from a publicly-funded RSL to its subsidiary, for that subsidiary to build private housing, and wham! – out of a clear blue sky comes another threatening letter from Hugh James, a company that itself has grown fat off the public purse.
An unkind soul might say they’re all in it together, civil servants, RSLs, lawyers, etc, all sucking on the teat of the public purse, so why not watch each other’s backs, hang together lest they hang separately?
Which raises the possibility that certain persons know about the arrangement in Pembrokeshire, and are quite happy to fund it. And perhaps these same people also know that housing associations are dealing with companies hiding in tax havens that could be run by gangsters, and they also support this arrangement.
Because imagine the embarrassment in certain quarters if it became known that homes were being built in Pembrokeshire by a company funded by a housing association that has received tens of millions in grants from the ‘Welsh’ Government, and that some of these properties are sold to English retirees or used as holiday homes. Or that housing associations are officially encouraged to deal with faceless companies in tax havens!
This would explain why such people, instead of responding with, ‘Thank you, Jac, for drawing this to our attention, your OBE is in the pipeline, regularly set the dogs on me!
I have argued for some time that the system of publicly-funded Registered Social Landlords is unsustainable in the long run. We are, effectively, giving public money to what are in many cases unaccountable private companies. As I see it, there are three options:
1/ Cut RSLs adrift and let them support themselves by raising private funding. (After all, they are asset rich.)
2/ Return the role of social housing provision, together with the current stock, to local authorities.
3/ Let the ‘Welsh’ Government take over the social housing stock and set up a national body along the lines of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.
The more I learn of RSLs the more convinced I become that the existing system of social housing provision in Wales is broken. For anyone to pretend otherwise is to be wilfully blind or else defend known practises that would shock and outrage most people if they gained wider publicity than they get from my blog.
You may have read my previous post, ‘Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd‘. If not, then I suggest you read it, if only to help you understand what follows.
Your government gives a great deal of public money to housing associations. These bodies are largely unregulated and, as a consequence, a law unto themselves. (One reason so many of them run into ‘difficulties’.) For example, Pembrokeshire Housing – a body that receives a great deal of money from the public purse – funds its subsidiary Mill Bay Homes in the building of private houses for sale.
The emergence of this particular scandal is due entirely to dedicated individuals rather than to the media, politicians, or those answerable to you who claim to be overseeing the Registered Social Landlords you so lavishly fund.
Now it emerges that housing associations funded by your government are leasing – perhaps also renting – property from Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd, a company that is registered in a tax haven to hide the identity of those behind it, also to escape UK regulations and of course to avoid paying UK tax.
On Sunday, the Guardian told us that Arron Banks, funder of Ukip, friend of Nigel Farage and financial backer of his recent Leave.EU campaign, also makes use of Gibraltar. (Read it here.) When I read the story bells rang because details of Banks’ Gibraltar connection seemed familiar to me.
That’s because both Link Holdings and Arron Banks use Parliament Lane Nominees as directors, and both also use STM Fidecs Management Ltd as secretaries. (Check Link Holdings’ company profile from Companies House in Gibraltar to confirm this.)
Coincidence? Probably, but the Guardian article raises the possibility that Welsh housing associations, funded and supposedly regulated by the Welsh Government, could be leasing properties from Arron Banks.
Despite the blog post I refer you to focusing on Swansea this problem is not confined to that city, or to Link Holdings. To begin with, Link Holdings owns property across southern Wales, so it’s reasonable to assume that RSLs in other areas have an arrangement with Link. Then, knowing that Link is one of many offshore companies owning property in Wales makes it equally reasonable to assume that housing associations have dealings with companies other than Link. (Read this.)
It doesn’t matter which possibility we consider, neither does your government or the housing associations involved any favours. Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd could be owned by Arron Banks, or it could be owned by the Mafia, the Moonies, or money-launderers, we just don’t know.
Successive Labour administrations in the Assembly have told us they believe in ‘openness’, they’ve also reminded us how responsible they are in their handling of the public purse. You now have an opportunity to prove that these claims are more than empty rhetoric.
Unless, that is, you see nothing wrong with housing associations passing on public funding to property companies registered in tax havens. But I find that difficult to believe.
I also believe that no right-thinking Welsh politician would sanction what I have explained here, so we are entitled to know who is behind Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd. We are also entitled to know if you and the housing associations involved are unable to identify who is behind this company.
Someone also needs to explain why the Welsh Government allowed publicly-funded bodies to do business with companies registered in tax havens. Before, finally, promising that such behaviour will be brought to an end.
It’s clear from the Link Holdings case, from what’s happening in Pembrokeshire, and from other evidence, that the social housing sector is in one hell of a mess. A well-funded but almost completely unregulated mess.
The answer to this problem lies in genuine reform, not in encouraging housing associations run by Labour Party members to take over faltering RSLs in order to increase Labour’s stranglehold on Welsh public life. (I am of course referring here to the recent Wales and West takeover of Cantref.)
Let me conclude by suggesting that you, First Minister, practise what your party preaches about openness and concern for the public purse by making sure that no more of our money reaches secretive companies registered in Gibraltar or any other tax haven.
UPDATE 18.10.2016: I have now decided to write directly to the First Minister. Here’s my letter.
Regular readers of Private Eye – and perhaps those who abjure Lord Gnome’s organ – will know there is now a database available that tries to list all property in Wales and England owned by overseas registered companies. You can browse it here.
Naturally, my interest was in Wales, and so I extracted the Welsh properties from the database and these can be viewed here, grouped by local authority, and then, within each LA area, ownership is shown alphabetically.
It soon becomes clear that different companies can be found operating in different areas, some in more than one area; but one particular company stood out for the sheer number of properties it owns.
I’m referring of course to the company of the title, Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd. Here’s a list of Link’s properties, again, grouped by local authority, and in date order with the most recent purchases at the top. Though you’ll see that Link also owns a few houses (and a garage!) in Colchester, Essex, which seem to be the only properties the company owns outside of Wales. I’d love to know the explanation for the Essex outlier.
Perhaps the most striking thing about the Link properties is that a great majority of the title documents, almost all, in fact, bear the same date, July 24, 2006. There are so many titles bearing this date that I think it must signify the transfer of a large property portfolio to Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd on that date. Which raises the question, whose portfolio was it before Link bought it? Alternatively, it could just be a change of name. In which case, what was the previous name of Link?
Although my interest was aroused by reading the articles in Private Eye and checking out the map, what really kick-started this investigation was someone in Swansea contacting me through Facebook to say that a number of the properties listed for Link in fact belonged to a housing association, which I thought was odd.
The properties my source was referring to are in Penmaen Terrace in Mount Pleasant, three- or four-storey houses, once homes to the local bourgeoisie now broken up into self-contained flats of the kind popular with students. (The picture below shows the kind of properties I’m talking about, though not necessarily the one I shall now focus on.)
My informant referred me to No 5, which she assured me was rented out by the Coastal Housing Group. Nearby properties were also said to be rented out by Coastal. The obvious thing to do was check with the Land Registry, where the mystery was cleared up . . . sort of.
Though remember that Coastal is a relatively new organisation, registered on April 1, 2008 and formed through the merger of Cymdeithas Tai Dewi Sant (1991) and the Swansea Housing Association (1978). Which means that although Coastal is named as the registered owner and proprietor (of the lease) on 04.02.1983 this must have been the Swansea Housing Association.
The two ‘Restrictions’ dated 23.04.2008 would appear to be some kind of recognition that the merger and reorganisation had taken place.
Scrolling to the end of the leasehold document, under the ‘Charges’ (loan, mortgages, etc.) heading brings us to this entry: “(04.02.1983) Proprietor: The Housing Corporation of 149 Tottenham Court, Road, London W1T 7BN.” This quango was the body that oversaw and funded housing associations between 1964 and 2008. I assume it ceased to have any authority in Wales after devolution.
An assumption that seems to be confirmed by a later entry reading: “(12.10.2000) A Deed dated 4 October 2000 made between (1) National Westminster Bank Plc (2) The National Assembly For Wales and (3) Swansea Housing Association Limited relates to priorities as between the Charges dated 12 January 1983 and 4 October 2000 referred to above as therein mentioned.”
In order to find out exactly what this meant, I contacted the ‘Welsh’ Government with a FoI. I submitted the request on Sunday, October 2, which meant that no one would have read it until Monday, then I had a phone call on the Tuesday from a Regulation Manager at the Housing Directorate! Here’s a section from the written reply that arrived a couple of days later.
The answer to my question, ‘How much did the ‘Welsh’ Government chip in?’ would appear to be that the ‘Welsh’ Government put in no money but instead acts as some kind of guarantor for housing associations taking out or revising loans.
Having satisfied myself as to who owns and who leases 5 Penmaen Terrace I decided to look at another property in Swansea owned by Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd, one mentioned in the freehold of 5 Penmaen Terrace, where it says, almost at the end, “(24.07.2006) Registered Charge dated 29 June 2006 affecting also other titles. NOTE: Charge reference WA99891”.
WA99891 takes us to a part of town with which I am more familiar, for this title number refers to the freehold of 379 Neath Road in Plasmarl, the neighbourhood where my father was born and raised. Once a busy road, in fact, the main road from town to Morriston, it has become something of a backwater due to the new road that now runs past the Liberty Stadium and on up to the M4.
The property on Neath Road is a just a terraced house but, again, it’s owned by Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd, though unlike the one in Penmaen Terrace it belongs to those properties bought, or registered, after 24.07.2006. To be exact, 06.10.2006. Another difference is that the lessee in this instance is the Family Housing Association Wales Ltd. And the money to fund the lease came from Orchardbrook Ltd.
I couldn’t get a great deal of information on Orchardbrook, for one thing, it doesn’t seem to have a website, but I did turn up minutes from a 2009 meeting of the York Housing Association, which say, “The Chair explained that Orchardbrook (a subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Scotland) took over all Housing Associations loans and the interest rate specified was high.” Suggesting that when the Housing Corporation was wound up in 2008 its assets, in the form of loans made to housing associations, were sold off.
So the Charge entered against the leasehold title of the Neath Road property in 2014 probably means that Orchardbrook ‘revised’ the terms of the loan it had inherited from the Housing Corporation.
We don’t want to get bogged down in the minutiae of Land Registry documents so to explain a little more I’ll use the Zoopla website. Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd owns hundreds of properties in Swansea and many more across the south (but none west of Llanelli).
For example, Link owns many properties on relatively new developments in the Llansamlet area, in Brynteg, Ryw Blodyn, Lon Brynawel and Clos Eileen Chilcott and other streets. Using the data I’d compiled and cross-referencing with Zoopla and other property websites we find that most of these properties are leasehold.
Obviously I can’t check all Link’s properties, there are just too many, but I suspect the same picture will be found elsewhere: older properties – especially large ones and Houses of Multiple Occupation like those in Penmaen Terrace – are leased or rented to housing associations, with newer properties – bought as buy-to-lets – are privately leased or rented. Though I’m not ruling out that newer properties might also be leased or rented to RSLs.
While the big question – ‘Who owns Link?’ – goes unanswered, the profile does advance our knowledge in other areas. It tells us, for example, that Link was incorporated in Gibraltar on September 11, 2003.
Digging around in the FCA website turned this up, which tells us that on 24.02.2006 Cymru Investments Ltd of Jersey changed its name to or merged with Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd. This might explain the rush of registrations with the Land Registry a few months later, for this could be the Cymru Investments portfolio being registered under the new name.
Though given that Link was Incorporated in Gibraltar in September 2003 what was it doing in the intervening period?
You’ll also see that the name Cymru Investments Ltd had only been used for a year or so, so was there a previous name? Yes there was, as this document from the Jersey Financial Services Commission tells us. From 10.09.1991 to 15.02.2003 Cymru Investments was known as Rastlebeg Investments (Jersey) Ltd, and before that, from 14.03.1974, the company went by the name of Gwalia Investments Ltd.
Something you may have picked up on is that there’s a gap of 23 months between Jersey saying the name Rastlebeg ceased to be used (15.02.2003) and the FCA telling us that the name Cymru investments was adopted (08.01.2005). Is this a typo, or was another name used in this period?
In the hope of getting to the bottom of things I decided to buy the original registration document for Gwalia Investments Ltd from 14.03.1974 from the Jersey Financial Services Commission. Here it is. You’ll see that despite what we’re being told, the company was originally registered as Castlebeg Investments (Jersey) Ltd not Gwalia Investments Ltd. Yes, that’s Castlebeg not Rastlebeg – another typo? Well, no.
Because further Googling turned up this entry (below) from Hansard. Castlebeg and Rastlebeg are one and the same, so why the different spellings, was the name changed in an attempt to confuse, or is it a repeated typo?
Here’s a link to another Commons exchange from 1986 concerning Castlebeg Investments (Jersey) Ltd. The company was clearly behaving in improper and even underhand ways. There seems to have been some reluctance on the part of the then Conservative government to introduce leasehold reform. The kind of reforms recommended in the Nugee Report.
Having started the previous section by saying I didn’t want to get bogged down in the minutiae of Land Registry documents I’m now in danger of getting us bogged down in information from other sources, so I’ll just refer to a few more scraps of information before trying to pull the various threads together.
This first document, from the FCA, is the one that confirms Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd as the successor to Cymru Investments Ltd of Jersey (see panel above), but there are tabs on it we have yet to explore. If we click on the ‘Principals’ tab we bring up the name of Brian D Thomas Insurance Services Ltd of Swansea. Here’s the Companies House entry.
This company goes back to May 1977 and was chugging along quite comfortably, with total assets less current liabilities of £399,517 at year end 31.03.2005. But then, this thoroughly Swansea company, soon after it gets involved with Link Holdings, is taken over by the Jelf Group of Bristol, undergoes a few name changes, is moved to Bristol, goes dormant, and is finally put out of its misery by being dissolved 07.09.2010.
Interestingly, one of the many names Brian D Thomas briefly traded as in this period was Gwalia Insurance Services. It’s strange how the name Gwalia keeps cropping up, and those of you familiar with the social housing scene will know that there’s a Gwalia Housing Group in Swansea, which recently merged with the Seren Group to create Pobl. Is there a connection?
You will have noticed that the Principal Place of Business given on the FCA document for Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd is, ‘Cymru Investments Ltd., Po Box 232, Jersey, Channel Islands JE4 8SF‘.
At that same address we find Cymru Management Ltd, Company Number 91117, Registered 06.09.2005. The date of Registration fits perfectly with all the moving and shaking going on, and Link Holdings in the wings waiting to take over. The Annual Return for 2016 informs us that Cymru Management has just two £1 shares issued to Mrs Deanne Mary Pascoe.
Mrs Pascoe is a woman pushing 80 and a director of GUKL Ltd, which I guess is run by another director, Paul Henry Barron Pascoe, a solicitor, who I take to be her son. The registered office is in London, and yet, if you scroll down on the ‘People’ page you come to a couple of names and addresses from the city of my dreams.
One is Zoe Teresa Brooks of Killay, and the other is James Christopher Coughlan of Llansamlet. Both served as directors for just six weeks, from 15.05.1995 until 30.06.1995. And when appointed Ms Brooks was only 18 years of age! Mr Coughlan is a builder, and had his own firm for a short time. It appears Ms Brooks did not trouble Companies House ever again.
Digging into the history of GUKL tells us that it began life in March 1990 as Cruisebase Plc, but the name was soon changed, in July 1990, to Golfads (UK) Plc, and again in October 2015 to GUKL. Would it be reasonable to assume that the current name means Golfads UK Ltd? And if so, what the hell does such a company have to do with Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd?
It might be worth adding that even though a number of sources suggest Cymru Investments morphed into Link Holdings it still exists in some ethereal form, using the same number, 8431, as this Annual Return for 2016 to the Jersey authorities tells us. Five thousand £1 shares held by Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd.
I feel a bit like old Gildas writing De Excidio, where he talks of having made a ‘heap’ of all he’d found, because I’ve collected a lot of information but I’m still not sure what it tells us. Anyway, let’s try to make sense of it. (And I need your help.)
We know from Hansard, quoting Ron Davies and Nicholas Edwards, that there was a leasehold company operating in the mid-1980s named Castlebeg Investments (Jersey) Ltd. This company was also and variously known as Cymru Investments (Jersey) Ltd and Gwalia Investments (Jersey) Ltd. Though the jury is out as to whether it also called itself Rastlebeg or whether this was a clerical error. As the names suggest, all these companies were based on Jersey in the Channel Islands.
This company leased both to private individuals and bodies such as housing associations. It may or may not have also rented properties. Then, after being Incorporated in Gibraltar 11.09.2003 (but, according to the FCA, still using the Jersey address of Cymru Investments Ltd) Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd took over or became the latest incarnation of Gwalia/Cymru/Castlebeg. Probably confirmed with the splurge of Land Registry registrations of 24.07.2006.
It doesn’t matter how many sidetracks we follow, or from which angle we choose to approach this subject, there always seems to be a path back to Swansea. Whatever we are dealing with has its origins in or close to that city. But what is it? If Link Holdings is now a massive buy-to-let portfolio, then there is one outstanding candidate for the man behind it. I won’t name him, but everything fits.
It could even be that the Link portfolio today is an amalgam of an older leasehold business, Castlebeg, and more recent purchases by another party of newer properties, such as those in Llansamlet and other parts of Swansea which look as if they could have been bought off plan. So please look at the Private Eye map and the data I’ve compiled, what kind of properties does Link own in your area?
And yet . . . I have this nagging worry that some of the properties now owned by Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd may once have belonged to social housing providers. I hope not. Equally, I hope that Link is not a social housing portfolio that has been moved offshore.
What we can be sure of is that Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd is registered where it is a) to pay as little tax as possible, b) to escape the UK regulatory system, and c) to hide the identity or identities of whoever owns the company. That in itself arouses suspicion.
More worrying is that Link and other offshore companies own so much property in Wales. But worse, is that housing associations, bodies receiving hundreds of millions of pounds in public funding, are doing business with Link.
My enquiries covered just one local authority area, and I looked into only one (admittedly large) offshore property company. But I doubt if the picture will be very different in other areas and with other companies. So go through the information I’ve linked to, have a look around your area, and send me your feedback.
We are entitled to know how much Welsh public funding ends up with companies registered offshore. The ‘Welsh’ Government also needs to explain why these deals were entered into. Finally, we must have a promise that there will be no more of these deals, and that Welsh public funding will no longer enrich those who view Wales as a country to be exploited.
UPDATE 16.10.2016: The online Guardian today carried a piece about Arron Banks, big buddy of Nigel Farage and funder of both Ukip and the Leave.EU campaign. Unsurprisingly, Banks has accounts in many a tax haven, including Gibraltar, where Link Holdings also hides its loot.
But the connection doesn’t end there, for Banks also uses Parliament Lane Nominees Ltd as directors and STM Fidecs Management Ltd as secretaries, just like Link Holdings. (Read Link Holdings’ company profile.) Probably just coincidence, I suppose, but what if . . .
The EU currently takes no position on the sovereignty issue but accepts Britain’s de facto administration of the Falklands-Malvinas on the basis of solidarity among member states, despite having a number of member states with profound and undisguised sympathy with Argentina’s claims. Surely, even this position of neutrality will disintegrate post-Brexit.
Currently, the only countries I have been able to identify that continue to support the British arguments are Canada and Taiwan. (The latter for very obvious and self-serving reasons, Jac.)
This must surely be the time for Wales, Scotland and Ireland to use the next meeting of the British-Irish Council to join the international consensus in urging the British state to commence discussions with Argentina immediately on the Falklands-Malvinas sovereignty issue.
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Jac adds . . . Until I started looking for links for this piece I hadn’t realised myself just how isolated Britain now is on the issue.
While digging I also came across the recently broken story that Israel had supplied Argentina with weapons during the war. Hardly surprising perhaps, given that Buenos Aires has one of the largest Jewish communities outside of Israel. So with Jewish boys in the conscript army we should not be surprised by this revelation.
Though many of the accounts I read, including the one linked to, personalise it by attributing the decision to Israel’s prime minister at the time, Menachem Begin, who had fought against the British in the late 1940s. He was even quoted as having invoked the name of an old Irgun comrade hanged by the British by way of justification.
Other reports of this revelation inevitably described Begin as a ‘terrorist’, which got me to thinking . . . Why is it that all my life I have heard people around the world described as terrorists by the British media and British politicians – did these people come to England and terrorise people?
Of course not, these ‘terrorists’ – De Valera, Kenyatta, Grivas and all the rest – were in their own countries, defending their own peoples. Theirs was a fight against imperialism. Yet the British/English interpretation is that the empire was benevolence manifest, consequently only unhinged terrorists could want to break the imperial connection.
This new and ugly Englishness, and all its ranting prophets and hangers-on – particularly those in Wales – must be treated with a combination of contempt and ridicule. And if that fails, then we must do to them as they do to others and shout them down.
This is no time to retreat to the moral high ground. Fight fire with fire.