The ‘Welsh’ Government has just announced the first allocation of the 2014 – 2020 EU structural funds. Twenty million pounds is to go towards a new £40m innovation and enterprise centre at Aberystwyth university, to be built next to IBERS (Institute of Biological Environmental and Rural Sciences).
Writing in Monday’s Wasting Mule self-styled ‘Finance and Government Business Minister’ Jane Hutt waxed lyrical about this project in an article headed ‘Vital that we make most of EU investment to transform Wales’. (Click on image to enlarge and click here for online version.) A headline that is insulting to the intelligence of anyone who appreciates why we – almost uniquely in Europe – are now receiving a third round of structural funds. The reason is that the ‘Welsh’ Government squandered the first two rounds of funding on projects with no chance of success or wasted it on Labour’s right-on cronies in the Third Sector, who have flocked to Wales since devolution to get their noses in the trough. Let me spell it out. The reason Wales is getting a third round of structural funds is because the ‘Welsh’ Government, ‘Welsh’ Labour, and the London-answering civil servants who run Wales, have all screwed up. And it may have been deliberate.
Let us all understand that simple fact before proceeding, because as someone once said, if we don’t learn from past mistakes then we are almost certain to repeat them. Seeing as all the mistakes with EU structural funds have occured within recent memory no one should have forgotten what went wrong. Moving on . . .
As I’ve already said, the new centre is to go up alongside the IBERS complex at Gogerddan, making it reasonable to assume a connection, so here’s another chance to link with the IBERS website. You will note that the Wasting Mule piece mentions alongside IBERS the ‘Beacon Centre of Excellence for bio-refining’, so I also checked out their website. It was no surprise to read that this partnership between the universities at Aberystwyth, Bangor and Swansea “is backed with £10.6 million from the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government”. But to do what exactly? Well, it seems that the academics and students at IBERS and Beacon experiment with crops, animal feed and the like, the idea being that some of them will come up with a good idea that can be marketed and make oodles of money. As, I say, that’s the hope. The Beacon website provides a list of companies with which it is in partnership. Let’s look at them one by one.
ABER INSTRUMENTS seems to be a partnership between Aberystwyth university and the Centre for Alternative Technology in Corris and sells to the brewing industry. Given the partners, Welsh involvement is predictably minimal. The company seems to be in reasonable financial health.
AGROCEUTICAL PRODUCTS is based in Glasbury on Wye, close to the border, which might raise queries about the use of EU structural funds allocated to west Wales. Its claim to fame appears to be that “Agroceutical Products’ work on the production of Galanthamine from daffodils grown in Wales was featured in the BBC’s Countryfile program which was broadcast on Sunday 24th April 2011.” Which seems to jar with what we read elsewhere on the website about the company not being formed until 2012.
AXIUM PROCESS Ltd is certainly based within the ‘Objective One’ area, in Hendy, just outside Swansea. Axium’s business is stainless steel fabrication, so it’s not immediately obvious what links it with academics in Aberystwyth specialising in biorefining. Financially, Axium appears to be up Shit Creek, with DueDil suggesting net assets of -£624,000. The major shareholder, with some 76% of the shares is Moda Systems Ltd of the same address, and with the same directors. Moda appears to be in better financial health than Axium with net assets (at June 2010) of some £200,000, but the company does not appear to trade.
CLIFFORD JONES TIMBER GROUP appears to be an established Welsh company based in Rhuthun with a net worth of over four million pounds.
COMPTON GROUP is a property development company based in Swansea which “invests in biotech research at Welsh universities”. This munificence is explained thus on the Compton website: “Compton Group’s interest in research projects is primarily financial; we look to out-license the intellectual property at an early stage . . . “. Phew! thank God for that; for one terrible minute I thought the ugly lovely town was producing philanthropists!
DTR Medical is another Swansea company, formed in 2005, this one produces medical and surgical instruments. The company is owned 100% by its managing director John Richard Salvage, of Surrey, and is part of his Medsa Group Ltd. Mr Salvage is quite the entrepreneur, though some of his ventures, such as Saifer Hygiene Ltd, are among the departed, while others struggle on through this Vale of Tears, including the Medsa Group itself which, if DueDil is correct, has liabilities of £1.5m.
FARMACEUTICAL INNOVATIONS is a new company, Incorporated July 2011, based at Llanfair P G and involved in “the clean extraction of phytochemicals from sustainable sources”. Financial health would appear to be shaky, with liabilities climbing and assets dropping. The company is run and owned (33.33% each) by Richard Douglas Henry Potterill (aged 29), Dr Kevin Wall (58) and Jennifer Helen Wall (29). The two younger partners seem to have no previous business experience but Kevin Wall is also a director of Ingenious Extractions Ltd and Zun Energy Ltd, the first based at an address in Holywell, Flintshire, the latter in Rhuthun.
FRUITING BODIES deals in fungus extracts and is part of the Red Pig Farm, a hippy venture located in Bethlehem, near Llangadog. A 100ml bottle of fungus extract will set you back £17,50. (Though you can get 6 bottles for £100. Click on image to enlarge.) I could find no company number for either Fruiting Bodies or Red Pig Farm, suggesting they are not registered companies. Maybe they deal in cash, or barter.
MDF RECOVERY is another very small enterprise, a two-man band by the look of it. The website is odd in that it does not divulge where the company is based, nor does it give a company number. Though the STD code given locates the company in Macclesfield, Cheshire, and I was about to leave it at that before another line of enquiry presented itself. This told me that the company is in fact registered at 36 Castle Street, Beaumaris, which is an office of the Letterbox Recruiting agency. I suspect Letterbox lives up to its name by providing a Welsh address for MDF Recovery. Financially, MDF is not a well outfit.
PENNOTEC is another company that does not provide either a postal address or a company number on its website. Pennotec is almost certainly part of the Pennog group, with which it shares a phone number and, despite the Welsh-sounding name, the ‘phone number suggests that Pennog is based in Huddersfield. Yet, here again, despite the telephone number suggesting an operation in England, the company is actually registered at a private residence in Nefyn. And once again, I must report a company with assets dipping and liabilities on the rise.
PHYTOQUEST provides the welcome opportunity for me to tell you that this is a Welsh company, with an Aberystwyth address and an Aberystwyth telephone number. In fact, the registered company address is c/o IBERS. Though when I say ‘Welsh’, I mean it’s located in Wales, for there don’t seem to be any Welsh people involved with the company. Unlike some of the other companies I’ve looked at I’m pleased to be able to report that Phytoquest is in reasonable financial health, though these things are relative. By which I mean that between May 2013 and May 2014 Phytoquest’s net worth dropped by 75.11% and its liabilities increased by 1,177% in the same period.
PLANT FIBRE TECHNOLOGY was Incorporated in 2005 but the website is still under construction! Based in Bangor the company is wholly owned by a Gary Newman, who may not be an academic, whereas the company secretary glories in the name of Dr Mary Anne Pasteur. Mr Newman is involved with a few other companies, all of them unlikely to ever trouble the Stock Exchange. Plant Fibre Technology itself leads a precarious financial existence with net assets of £88 at March 2014 and total liabilities of £11,616.
SPENCER ECA is based in Penrhiwllan near Llandysul and is definitely a growing company . . . unfortunately liabilities seem to be growing as fast, if not faster, than assets. That said, Spencer ECA seems to be one of very few of the companies on the Beacon list that actually employs people, let’s hope they’re Welsh. Spencer ECA also has a presence in Ireland, Scotland, England, Swansea and Newtown.
So those are the companies listed as ‘partners‘ on the Beacon website, and Beacon is linked with IBERS, the recipient of £20m of EU Structural Funds. Perhaps the kindest thing one can say about these companies is that they’re a mixed bunch. What we have in many cases is academics deluding themselves they’re entrepreneurs, but what the hell! it’s someone else’s money. And that’s a major problem nowadays, dream up any ridiculous project using the magic words ‘eco’, ‘bio’, ‘enviro’ and you can just hold out your hands and wait for the money to drop. Throw in a glossy new building and lots of publicity in the specialist press and civil servants and politicians can’t give out the money fast enough.
Though what are we to make of what appear to be English companies taking out letter-box addresses in areas of Wales qualifying for Structural Funds? That looks a bit iffy.
There is nothing wrong with universities co-operating with business, I support that, but the difference between what’s happening in Aberystwyth and what happens elsewhere is obvious. Real universities in England, Scotland and elsewhere have major corporations fighting to invest hundreds of millions of pounds, yet here in Wales there’s no queue of big companies, the money has to come in hand-outs of EU funding. Hardly surprising when we remember that Aberystwyth is a refuge for third-rate English students . . . with academics to match. Are these going to come up with world-beating ideas? No; so why waste money on them?
You will have noticed as we went through Beacon’s partners an almost total absence of Welsh involvement. So will the latest £20m create any jobs for Welsh people? No. Will it provide facilities or amenities that will benefit local communities? No. Will this money create infrastructure that will be of wider benefit than just for the university? No. Like the countless millions already wasted on Aberystwyth University this latest £20m will be squandered on academics’ playthings, hippy ventures and companies that will never employ a single Welsh person.
The first two rounds of Objective One / Structural Funds were wasted. Now, with this announcement it looks as if the third round of funding will also be wasted. This money has been given by the EU to raise living standards, to create employment, to build infrastructure, in the poorest areas of western Europe and the people living in those areas. If it is not used for that purpose then the EU should step in and withhold the funding. Seeing as we Welsh get no benefit from EU funding it would be better to go without it entirely than see it used to fund the colonisation of our country.