Cardigan Castle AGM 2015

One of Wales’ many pockets of totalitarianism went through what its defenders would have us believe approximates to democracy last Thursday when the beleaguered clique running the show emerged briefly from behind the PR defences to hold the Cardigan Castle AGM 2015. A gathering from which television cameras were banned, perhaps because the Castle had gained some rather unflattering coverage from the BBC on the very day of the AGM. (Translated, the headline reads, ‘Has Cardigan Castle lost its way?’)

Seeing as Lady Tucker, the grande dame of the whole shooting-match, had herself gone through the charade of a ceremonial abdication (in order to be almost immediately restored to power) Hedydd “Over my dead body!” Jones began the scripted and rigidly controlled meeting by announcing that no awkward questions about staffing or other sensitive issues would be allowed! Which set the tone for what followed. Though, to the surprise of many there gathered, she said this in Welsh. In fact, I’m informed that the meeting was conducted largely in Welsh with translation facilities available. Clearly, recent criticism of the direction the project is taking have had some effect.

One question that did slip through PR company Equinox’ net was why the Castle doesn’t get better reviews on TripAdvisor. To which Dr Jones haughtily replied that she didn’t bother herself with such things. An odd response. Here we have a project that has been steered away from its original Castlecultural and historical focus to become just another dreary tourist attraction, yet those responsible for this subversion are unconcerned that a website likely to be consulted by potential visitors gives such mixed reviews! And as if that wasn’t bad enough, some unkind souls even suggest that most of the positive reviews on TripAdvisor have been written by Sue “English!” Lewis. (Reviews aren’t much better on Google. Though I do like “Community-run”!)

Among other issues raised by those prepared to risk being ostracised were: Why there was so little interaction with the volunteers, and why was the membership list not made public before the AGM and the election of new trustees (as it should have been).

Tony Tucker, consort to Lady Tucker, was applauded when he made the bland and vacuous appeal for ‘Everyone to pull together . . . make the project a financial success . . . Father Christmas . . . kittens . . . blah, blah, blah . . . zzzzzzzzzzz . . . ‘. The applause came in the main from Aberporth residents who had been bused in for the meeting, and most of whom had walked through the town of Cardigan unrecognised by locals. Tucker’s contribution is another reminder of the tactics being employed under the tutelage of Equinox. Anyone who criticises the Gang of Five (I have promoted Timms) is trying to ‘wreck’ the project; when in reality the critics are the ones trying to save the project and keep it to its original course.

Another questioner asked why the trustees did not engage with their critics, rather than dismiss them (as Sandra “Bigots!” Davies did) as “bigots”. For some reason, answering this question was left to Councillor Gareth ‘Clettwr’ Lloyd, the representative of the county council. He argued that the term had been used by the media, not by the trustees. Another example of misinformation. Or, to be generous to Cllr. Lloyd, perhaps he had not read the Pembrokeshire Herald article, nor seen the original e-mail. If so, then that’s rather worrying, seeing as Cllr. Lloyd is a trustee.

*

Other information has reached me in the form of comments to my previous post, by that prolific writer Anon. One comment adds to the mystery surrounding the ‘resignation’ of Glen Johnson.

Resignation AGM

This tells me two things. First, due to those running the project getting so much adverse publicity someone thought it best to get the AGM done with sooner rather than later, then batten down the hatches and ride out the storm before the 2016 AGM. Second, the timing makes Glen Johnson’s ‘resignation’ look ever more suspicious. Either ‘Joff’ Timms is psychic, or someone said to the ever-obliging Johnson, ‘Look, Glen, you’re standing down anyway, so why not render the project a great service by letting us stage-manage your resignation?’

Other matters raised by ‘Anon’ are jobs claimed to have been created by the Castle, most of which are almost certainly being done by agency staff and are unlikely to add up to the number of FTE (full-time or equivalent) jobs claimed. Then there are the bookings to stay in the Castle’s accommodation, again being handled by an agency, which will take its cut and thereby limit the Castle’s profits. Though as ‘Dai Dom Da’ points out, there are precious few bookings of any description. For example, despite being open since April, and spending £100,000 on a permanent marquee, the Castle will not see a single wedding this year! ‘Brychan’s comments are also worth reading as he picks out some interesting points from the Annual Report.

Finally, Ian Perryman throws fresh light on the role of Sue ‘English!’ Lewis in the creation of the post of Facilities Officer, the job that she came to fill after beating off dozens of other applicants who’d seen the job advertised in all the local ‘papers. (Yes, that’s sarcasm; and as my old mate Meic Phillips would say, “laid on with a trowel, boy”.)

Anyway, what Ian says is this: If the job was created when Sue Lewis knew she was getting the elbow from the Tivy-Side Advertiser then clearly she would have had a hand in the dirty work. But the trustees counter this suggestion by arguing that the ‘re-organisation’ – of which the new post was a part – had been planned a long time before. But Sue ‘English!’ Lewis was a trustee for many years, which means that whenever the job was created she put herself in breach of Charity Commission regulations by taking a post she had been instrumental in creating when a trustee.

Charity Commission trustee to employee

Unless of course clearance was sought from the Charity Commission for her to take up the post. Though if not, why not? And if, as I suspect, the Charity Commission is ignorant of how the post was created and allocated, then someone should inform them. In fact, I might do it myself.

Symptomatic of a project in serious trouble, in so many ways. Public bodies have given over twelve million pounds of our money to a venture that was to have been a celebration of Welsh history and culture but has now degenerated into little more than the most expensive B&B in Wales. This change of course can be attributed to the Gang of Five, possibly others, but as ‘Dai Dom Da’ reminds us, there has not been a single wedding yet. So Cardigan Castle fails both as a heritage project and as a commercial ‘venue’.

*

While in the background we still hear the rumblings about the lack of contracts awarded to local companies, and the suspicion of favouritism, or pre-existing connections, that attach to some of the contracts awarded. Why, for example, did the Castle feel the need to go to a firm in Leicester for a £44,400 quote for a website, something that a Welsh firm could have provided for £5,000 or less? (That was obviously too greedy, but this outfit still got the contract to provide Fort Knox-level display cabinets for the Castle’s rusty tat and old photos.) And was there really no firm nearer than Hampshire to supply the Castle with glasshouses?

Small wonder that funders and other stakeholders such as the local councils are now taking greater interest in the project; and that dealings with the media are controlled by Equinox, which uses its contacts to put out a stream of positive stories. Like this one in today’s Cambrian News. But even here, Councillor Lloyd has to admit to a “breakdown in communication”, and the CN writer refers to “the lack of dialogue bet­ween trustees and members of the community who had concerns about the inclusion of heritage at the site”. I think that’s meant to be a reference to the lack of a heritage element (but then, with the Cambrian News you can never be sure what it’s trying to say).

And yet, I guarantee that anyone coming on this saga afresh would soon come to the conclusion that the reason for the ‘breakdown in communication’, the reason for ‘the lack of dialogue’, the reason it ceased to be a heritage project (yet fails as a commercial venture), the reason there is an alarming turnover of both trustees and staff, the reason that a clear majority within the local population feels alienated . . . these and all the other ills can be attributed to those running Cardigan Castle.

The only way for this project to regain the affection and support of the local population, and thereby become commercially viable, is to remove those who have got it into this mess. If Cardigan Castle was a purely commercial venture then heads would have rolled a long time ago; but not here, for we are now in the parallel universe of the Welsh Third Sector, where vast amounts of funding are wasted on social enterprises and other excuses for an economy, projects that it can never be admitted have failed. So lies are told, truths are withheld, and more and more money is poured into sink holes.

Outside of the ‘developing world’ there are few countries where a scandal such as Cardigan Castle could happen. Unfortunately, Wales, thanks in no small part to the ‘Welsh’ Labour Government, is one such country.

*

P.S. In addition to the reluctance to communicate with the public at large, something else I should have remarked on is the lax record keeping. For example, I have just (20:50 Sept 14) been to the Charity Commission page for Ymddiriedolaeth Cadwraeth Adeiladau Cadwgan Building Preservation Trust Charity (Number 1080667), which still shows Glen Jonsonh (sic) as a trustee with the new trustees elected last Thursday not shown. It is not difficult to keep up to date on the Charity Commission website, I know, I’ve done it myself many times. You simply log in, make the necessary changes to the trustees, or whatever, and those changes appear on the website immediately.

It’s difficult to know whether this reluctance to keep records up to date is attributable to laziness, or the more general tendency of the Gang of Five to behave like a secret society. Either way, the law says that the records should be kept up to date.

40 thoughts on “Cardigan Castle AGM 2015

  1. Emlyn Uwch Cuch

    There is no way that a totally bilingual website for an organisation such as Cardigan Castle should cost a penny more than £2500, including development, design, hosting and ongoing support. If Lady Tucker gives me a bell I can direct her to a fully professional Welsh firm who can do this work for her.

    1. I’m sure you’re right, but you probably lack ‘connections’ with the Gang of Five. If the Leicester firm hadn’t be so silly, so greedy, and priced their estimate at, say, £20,000, I bet they’d have got the contract.

  2. Tony

    Do I remember the press release, with photo’s indicating tunnels? If I am correct it was the Daily Mail?
    My concern is that the history has been buried. The original castle entrance, a wall and what I believe to be a rather unique buttress has been covered by earth.
    I was very dissapointed with Cadw response. One of the best ways to preserve history is to bury it.

    1. The original intention was to do some serious archaeology, but as this would have interfered with ‘the project’ it was ditched. Which makes me wonder about Cadw’s role, and indeed, funding. Also, Glen Johnson, ‘the History Man’, he seems to have resigned over this issue, then rejoined, then resigned again.

  3. Anon

    The need for a high input of visitors is shown in Joff Timm’s words in the annual report and the Cambria News item. It looks as if there is a figure of £80,000 per annum needed to maintain the fabric and keep the buildings weatherproof. At 30k visitors, £2.66 per visitor would be needed to cover this, while for 20k visitors the cost would be £4 per visitor. What exactly this entails is hard to discern, probably even for the accountants in the Project, but it must exclude the wages of the 25 staff and the costs of entertaining, feeding and insuring the visitors.

    Any news from your sources on who stepped into the breach as newbie trustees?

    1. Colin

      £80k? It must exclude staff wages otherwise if you take out Sue Lewis’ £25k it leaves £55k to pay for another 24 wages and run the buildings, that’s an average of £2291.67 pa each without the fabric of the building being touched. Surely the fab four aren’t that generous with the locals?

    2. Here’s a link to the AGM agenda. It tells us that there would be three ‘new’ trustees. One was of course the re-selected Lady Tucker. Another is a councillor or ex-councillor who recently had to repay expenses for miscalculating the distance from his home to the council HQ. (Happens all the time.) The third is Eleri Non Davies, who some of my sources say might be an improvement. Personally, I don’t see what one can do against the entrenched power of the Gang of Five and a few malleable deadbeats. Time will tell.

  4. E Jenkins

    You wrote recently that you were not in the same league as Bella Caledonia. That is bollocks. I read most of the Welsh and Scottish blogs, the best being yours and Wee Ginger Dog, the author of which is now writing for the new pro-independence newspaper, The National. Great job on all this, once again. You deserve a much wider readership. How can this be achieved?

    PS You deserve the Phil Parry Award for Outstanding Journalism.

  5. Ian Perryman

    I’m quite intrigued by the large ‘permanent’ marquee that has been mentioned several times.
    How big is it?
    Who supplied it?
    Did it really cost £100,000?

    I can’t see a permanent marquee being really all that ‘permanent’.
    How long is it supposed to last?

    If it lasts 10 years that’s a replacement cost of 10k a year.

    1. I’ve seen it myself. It’s a semi-permanent structure with some sort of foundations. It’s in the shape of a marquee but you mustn’t think of a canvas tent. Here’s a link to the accounts where you’ll find it costed at £86,000, though I’ve been told it cost more.

  6. Anon

    So advancing the AGM for fear of being inquorate gave them an additional two trustees. How many trustees have gone since the last AGM? Six? I’m not sure of my figures.

    1. That’s the problem, it’s difficult to keep count because the records are never up to date. There are comings and goings all the time, but a few ‘constants’, and they always know who the trustees are.

  7. Dai Dom Da

    More spin in this week’s Tivy-Side, this time predicting the castle could “smash its target” of 37,000 visitors in the first year and clock up 50,000.

    According to the paper, there have been 20,000 so far, although we are not told during which period (May to end August?) or whether they were paying visitors. It’s safe to assume that several thousand of those will have been curious locals who are unlikely to nip back in on a regular basis.

    So we just need 30,000 between now and the end of April. That’s quite a lot of folks on wet Tuesdays and cold-damp Thursdays through the winter. Possible, but more than a little optimistic. The cafe was empty at mid-day today and also on a couple of occasions last week as I went trundling by.

    1. The visitor figures are meaningless unless they can be independently verified. The reason the figures issued cannot be trusted is that everyone now involved has reasons for inflating and exaggerating the numbers. Those running the Castle and those who have poured in millions of pounds of public funding will brazen it out until the truth can no longer be denied; and in vain attempts to put off the inevitable admission of failure they will pour in yet more public funding. This is how the system operates, I’ve seen it time and time again.

    2. Anon

      Not read the Tivy-Side article, but it sounds as if this is back of the envelope calculations ’20k over five months equals 5k per month, so over 12 months, the answer will be xxx’. Wish my income could be as predictable!

      The answer will not be known until the project reports come in for year five. Then all the initial swings will have evened out and real dependable data will be seen.

      1. Ian Perryman

        I think there was a crease in your envelope 🙂
        20k over 5 months is only 4k per month – not 5k.

        In either case it doesn’t really matter whether it’s 4k or 5k.
        There is no way they can predict Winter visitor numbers from a short period over the Summer.

        The only way they’re going to get close to what the Tivy-Side is predicting is if they run the same visitor rate throughout the Winter as they did in Summer.

        Which, to put it politely, is unlikely.
        Some National Trust and Cadw sites close in Winter because visitor numbers are so low.

        1. Anon

          Thank you for wrinkling out my envelope!

          There is only a six month window for large numbers of visitors anywhere. Keeping the facility open for small numbers during winter is not be cost effective. The only way to keep numbers up is by diversified activities, many at risk of poor financial return.

          The total number is not relevant as long as they bring 80K with them, so either many with a small spend, or less, but with bigger pockets. That is all reflected in how the enterprise is marketed.

          As other sites close down over the winter, so is this one is likely to reduce staffing for the winter, one big reason why the AGM was advanced.

          1. The ‘window’, as the tourism business sees it, is normally Easter to the end of the school holidays in early September, which is five months. And even within that period there are troughs and peaks. There’s a lull after Easter, peaks at Spring Bank Holiday weekend and Whitsun weekend, then another downturn until the school holidays, mid-July to early September. The Christmas and New Year period can also be busy if an area has many trailer parks and holiday homes.

            But this being Wales, visitor numbers at any time of year will be influenced by the weather. This year’s bad summer is already affecting next year because many who might have visited Wales in 2016 are already booking holidays in countries where they are more likely to see prolonged sunshine.

            Like all publicly-funded projects – and here I speak from experience – there is a temptation to overstate potential visitor numbers and other factors in order to convince funders of the ongoing viability of the project. In fact, the system of awarding grants is so designed that if you don’t over-egg it then you’re unlikely to see the funding in the first place. This explains why so many publicly funded projects like this fail without further inputs of public funding.

            My prediction is that Cardigan Castle is economically unviable as a castle that attracts too few visitors; a wedding venue that hasn’t seen a single wedding!; a conference centre that sees very few conferences; and on a daily basis, a cafe / restaurant that few people use.

            But because so much public money has been poured in it would embarrass too many people if the Castle was to go bust in the next few years, so more good money will be thrown after bad. Money that could be better spent on worthwhile projects. So sad.

  8. Anonymous

    At a time when local museums and archives are under serious threat for want of fairly small sums, it’s appalling that Welsh ‘heritage’ is still being waved about to draw public money into half-baked tourist schemes. If people really want to open a wedding venue business, which is what this increasingly looks like whatever the original intent, surely they should just talk to a bank manager.

    Up in Wrecsam we have what looks like a similar thing with equally half-baked ‘heritage’ projects and the creeping housing development that ‘facilitates’ them.

    1. It’s not just museums and archives, there are wonderful old houses that should be saved, I was in one today, Gwydir Castle. Owned by a nice English couple who’ve obviously worked hard, but have also received quite a bit of public funding. Which means that Gwydir Castle will remain in private ownership and can be sold to just about anyone. I believe that buildings of that importance should be owned on behalf of the nation by a Welsh body doing similar work to the English National Trust.

  9. robert walsh

    I am getting feed up of people coming in to my home town and thinking they can make a quick buck out of the local then go and not put anything back .as for cardigan castle i thing it was a waste of money doing it up if no one is going to advertise the fact that it has been repaired for the public of cardigan to see inside and for tourists to spend Money in the castle and local shops .

  10. E Jenkins

    Well off topic, but the Western Mail strikes again:
    ” ‘She was brutally murdered by a local man I’d said hello to when I passed him in the street’ April Jones’ sister describes how killer Mark Bridger destroyed her family”

    1. dafis

      send them a note reminding them that Bridger was part of that socially dysfunctional effluent that English local authorities appear happy to relocate to Wales or anywhere else daft enough to take them ( and/or greedy enough for any funding available). You might at the same time remind them that our Welsh “Government” appears content to take this influx without any constraints yet bleats on ad nauseam about lack of resources. Maybe Trinity Group can square that circle.

        1. dafis

          Soon we’ll have even more to trouble us when a portion of the newly arrived Syrian refugees turn out to be not refugees and possibly not Syrian, but IS or AQ operatives just moved in to cause even more grief on “little Satan’s” turf. That’s why Dodgy Dave and his buddies want to spread them around the U.K whereas really the bloody lot should be allowed to stay in London.

          That said, if anyone is cute enough to work out who are the genuine arrivals we should look after them, but this piecemeal, arbitary approach currently in use seems ill equipped to do anything of the sort.

          1. German figures show that only 20.1% of those seeking asylum (Jan – Aug 2015) came from Syria. Of the remainder a majority came from the Balkans. Thrown in the Pakistanis, the Iranians, the Nigerians and the rest and we see that the majority of these ‘refugees’ are in fact economic migrants.

            For once, Cameron is right. Deal with the problem as near to source as possible. In the refugee camps of countries neighbouring Syria one is guaranteed to find genuine Syrian refugees, nor economic migrants.

            1. Big Gee

              Personally I’d prefer to see Syrian refugees in Aberaeron than Anglo Saxons. In fact my experience has been that most incomers have a better attitude towards locals than the aforementioned. More especially east Europeans. I find that Poles especially make a fair & genuine (not patronising) effort to learn Welsh and respect our culture. I found that out at an early age, as we had many Poles in school with us in the 50s & 60s who were the children of Poles who came here after the war – their ability to integrate was fantastic, and they all spoke three languages fluently, one of which was the language of their adopted country – Cymru. I also know from experience that migrants from the other side of Clawdd Offa, who are now on their second and third generation that have been born here, refuse to even say “diolch” when they serve you in a shop – that’s not the case amongst less arrogant migrants, who often have full empathy with us. The reason? Well didn’t you know that they (the Saeson) are not very good with languages and in any case Welsh is the hardest language in the World to learn! BOLLOCKS of course, what they mean to say is “Fuck off you native twat, you don’t honestly think we’ll lower ourselves to put any effort into that do you? We’re English!

              I find that even Africans & Asians will put more effort into it and respect our culture more than ‘Jac Sais’ (after all they know what British coloniialism is about). I’m quite surprised at how many Drs in our local hospital will respond with a little smidgen of Welsh if you bring it up in conversation. See what reaction you get when you try and prise one word of Welsh out of an English Dr who’s practicing here, often for 30+ years or more. It’s all down to attitude.

              As for the number of Syrian or other refugees (either genuine or not so genuine) who may come to Britain’s shores, and get spread out all over the UK they are a gnat’s piss in the ocean when it comes to diluting our nation – Y Cymry. Muhammed Ali once said – when he was asked why he refused to be conscripted into the US army “No Vietcong ever called me nigger”. The same aplies here. No Syrian, Afghanistani, African or Indian ever denegrated me, my family, my culture, or my language. They have never tried to colonise my country nor made my forefathers starve. I can’t say that about David Cameron’s tribe or his nation.

              I’m surprised at you of all people Jac, swallowing the xenophobic, racist, bigoted and colonian propaganda that’s spewed out by the Daily Mail or The Sun on behalf of ‘posh boy’ Cameron & his Etonian ‘chummies’.

            2. dafis

              I tend to share Jac’s view that you have a better chance of locating genuine cases at camps in Lebanon & Turkey than among those that have fled across Europe, although sadly nothing is absolutely guaranteed.

              However once relocated to our country these refugees should be given a decent welcome. Some will integrate, others will think they are in England and they should have it explained to them what “homeland” means in this corner of the British Isles. If they still want England then it’s a relatively short journey to the nearest English conurbation where they will find out how welcoming those bastards are !

              UKIP’s already letting off steam at the EU and Farage is now the poster boy for Hungarian and other E European xenophobes. Short memories those nations have as it’s only a few months since they were flocking west over their own borders in pursuit of the greener grass – genuine economic migrants, as opposed to these inconvenient victims of the foul-up produced by the Bush/ B.liar adventures and subsequent US/UK/EU foreign policy.

              Shame the U.S isn’t more accessible so that they could take a larger number of Middle Eastern refugees,but they will take the pick of the crop who have large offshore accounts to fund a new like in the land of the free. Still, all those migrating hispanics that cause Trump nightmares will serve to concentrate minds on that side of the Atlantic.

            3. Anonymous

              line 20 should have read ” to fund a new life in the land of the free ” !!!!!

            4. Gwilym, I was simply quoting official German figures. As for Cameron’s position, one is far more likely to find genuine refugees from the war in Syria just over the border in neighbouring countries than among those currently heading for Germany or Sweden.

              But everything may now be about to change as the Russians are shipping soldiers, tanks and combat aircraft into Syria in support of Assad. Peace, even under Assad, might be better for most Syrians than a war that no one seems able to win.

            5. Big Gee

              Jac you know as well as I do that Cameron saying that is just a weasel’s way around his responsibility. He’s a classic English upper class xenophobe.

              5,000 refugees per year for five years is a pathetic number – just to scotch the embarrassment that the Swedes and the Germans are causing him. 5,000 refugees a year into an UK of 64,000,000 is .0078 of ONE percent. And that’s going to change everything? I don’t think so.

            6. Brychan

              Like parts of Germany, the price of smuggled cigarettes and street heroin in South Wales has already fallen considerably. This is probably because the Macedonian cartels have now managed to crack their supply chain problem. They used to lack of dispensable end-of-chain-on-the-ground distributors in Western Europe. Some may be surprised how young ethnic Arabic men are able to accumulate a few thousand Euro, more than the manual wage of a Syrian worker (in the middle of a civil war) to pay the trafficking network. The Bajrush Sejdiu, Arslan Poda, and Nezim Allii gangs call it a ‘loan’. Those who are campaigning for local authorities in Wales to fund settlement of the smuggled refugees should also campaign to make financial provision for the Welsh police forces to set up anti-money laundering operations. Providing asylum for someone plucked out of a refugee camp in Lebanon is simple, however, housing a smuggled debtor of a Macedonian cartel via the Balkan route is fraught with dangers. I gave up smoking tobacco a few years ago partly due to cost, but now find the Albanian minicab drivers in Cardiff are doing a roaring trade.

            7. These Albanian minicab drivers are intimately familiar with the streets of Cardiff, or is the minicabbing just a front for the baccy business?

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