Housing Associations – All Change?

I sense that changes are taking place in our housing associations. Maybe someone, somewhere, has at last realised that pouring obscene amounts of public money into fifty or so bodies, many of them overstaffed and / or inefficient may not be the best way of meeting the need for rented accommodation.

In England, the process of Registered Social Landlords merging is steaming ahead. So we can expect more mergers here because it’s basically an Englandandwales system, the main differences being of scale and the fact that concessions are made here to faux socialists over sales of social housing and other matters that might drive them to the barricades . . . or to their iPhones to put out an indignant tweet.

HA mergers England

For various reasons set out below, mergers are to be encouraged, but here in Wales they seem to be things of great mystery, perhaps because housing associations are allowed to behave like secret societies. For despite receiving hundreds of millions of pounds of public funding they are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. This cannot be right. I defy anyone to argue that it is right.

Despite being confronted with a culture of omerta a few dogged individuals have persistently asked the awkward questions, but some of the ‘answers’ from officialdom have come direct from the Ministry of Bullshit.

CANTREF

Let us start by reminding ourselves of recent developments at this housing association in Castell Newydd Emlyn, and try to figure out what these changes might mean because, predictably, the findings of the ‘Welsh’ Government’s investigation into Cantref will remain secret. For those who missed it, here’s a link to my previous post, Tai Cantref: Favoured Suitor Named.

Cantref logo

The ‘Favoured Suitor’ is the Wales and West Housing of Cardiff. A curious choice, some may think. Much of its business is in the care home sector, not only in the south but also in towns like Brecon, Llandrindod, Newtown, reaching up to Flintshire and Denbighshire where many of its clients come from over the border.

Between 2008 and 2015 Wales and West received almost £65m in Social Housing Grant alone. (There are a number of other ‘funding streams’ for RSLs or, given the amounts involved, raging torrents.) Why is Wales and West – or any ‘Welsh’ RSL – allowed to use Welsh public funding to ease the care bill of Liverpool and other English authorities?

And I’m still waiting to learn why Wales and West was awarded £25m by the Department for Communities and Local Government in 2014 “to build 251 homes in Wales”. Social Housing is devolved, so why did Wales and West apply for funding to what is in these matters the English government? Come to that, why did the DCLG award the money?

The announcement of Cantref’s proposed connubials with Wales and West was made in this press release, in which we see the name of mystery man Kevin Taylor. He turned up in 2014 after a career spent in the hotel business in Bermuda and now – in his role as ‘Interim Chair’ – he’s deciding the fate of a Welsh housing association. So I’ll ask again: Who the hell is Kevin Taylor? And who forced him on Cantref?

The only real development since my previous post is that another press release was issued late on Friday afternoon, this one by the propaganda bureau at Carmarthenshire County Council.

Having given the matter of Cantref’s fate some thought, I have concluded that while there are almost certainly better options, if it comes to a straight fight between Carmarthenshire County Council and Wales and West Housing, then I shall support Carmarthenshire. And let’s not rule out Tai Ceredigion. Now I’d better explain my reasoning.

  • Most of Tai Cantref’s properties are in Ceredigion, ideal ‘retirement’ country that granny-farmers Wales and West would certainly exploit.
  • Carmarthenshire’s tyrannical chief executive Mark James will not last for ever. His days may already be numbered.
  • Council mergers are on the horizon, so the days of Carmarthenshire itself are also numbered.

Stop Press: You will recall that in my previous post we heard – from ‘Dai the Post’ – about Hilary Jones, chief executive of the Bro Myrddin housing association, who served as interim CEO at Cantref. According to ‘Dai’, she pressed Wales and West to take over Cantref and put her in charge. And of course, ‘Dai’ also told us that Hilary’s hubby served as interim head of finance at Cantref.

Dai the Post

Another name ‘Dai’ mentioned was David Hedges. Those with good memories might recall that this man got a mention last July in this post of updates and tit-bits (scroll down). Hedges runs a ‘consultancy’ called Cyngor Da. I now learn that David Hedges has also served time recently with Cantref, presumably ‘consulting’, or rather, being consulted, or however it works. And that his time at Cantref coincided or overlapped with Hilary Jones’s.

Perhaps more importantly for the purposes of this post, I’m being told that David Hedges has also worked with Campbell Tickell, the English company called in by (London-loyal civil servants acting in the name of) the ‘Welsh’ Government to investigate Cantref.

P.S. When reading the Wales and West website I saw the name Anne Hinchey, Chief Executive, which rang a bell. She is of course married to Councillor Graham Hinchey of Cardiff Council. Yet another example of the troubling link between the Labour Party and the Third Sector.

A link that does so much damage to Welsh public life through nepotism and other forms of corruption. And in this case perhaps explains why Cantref is being gifted to a housing association in Cardiff.

RCT HOMES

In my Easter Miscellany 2016 I touched on comings and goings, and tenant unrest, at RCT Homes. A body that gained brief notoriety in the public prints when it advertised for a chief executive at a salary of £150,000 a year. Here’a report from Inside Housing dealing with the departures.

The most high profile of those departures was CEO, Andrew Lycett, who left in mysterious circumstances in November last year, but soon took up a job with the Jehu Group Ltd, a construction company “operating throughout Wales and the West”. (The ‘West’ of where?) Jehu is just the sort of company that would recruit someone with inside knowledge of how housing associations operate and public money is splashed around. Here’s a video of Lycett bragging about RCT Homes’ labour being “locally sourced” . . . but obviously not for the top jobs.

RCT Homes lost a couple of other senior staff around the same time. One was Lycett’s deputy, Malcolm Wilson, who took ‘early retirement’. Wilson is yet another Englishman who slunk over the border to take advantage of the billions of pounds in public money sloshing about Wales with neither oversight nor monitoring. Wilson is said to have been “demeaning” to Wales and the Welsh language.

The third to jump ship, or be pushed overboard, depending on how generous you feel, was Finance Director Lisa Pinney. ‘Jolly hockey sticks’ is not a phrase I employ but it’s often used to describe a certain type of female; in the case of Pinney, a board member of Hockey Wales (not ‘Welsh Hockey’, note), it seems entirely appropriate. Ms Pinney also found lucrative employment, in her case with Pobl, a recent merger between the Seren Group and Grwp Gwalia.

It really is a jobs merry-go-round, giving free rides to people who would struggle to survive in the world of real business. And we pay to keep this ‘merry-go-round’ turning.

Adrian Barber

The consultant (that word again) called in to see what was going on at RCT Homes – and no doubt paid many hundreds of pounds a day – was an Adrian Barber. It should go without saying that he’s English. What else do we know about him.

From August 2010 until April 2011 Barber was Interim Head of Housing at the London Borough of Bexley. In September 2011 he joined the PSI Consultancy (UK) Ltd. This is an outfit that provides “Interim Management” to councils and housing associations in trouble – at extortionate daily rates of course.

PSI Consultancy

He first came to Wales to join RCT Homes as Interim Housing and Repairs Director in February 2014, and was in that post until May 2015 – at consultant’s rates. In June 2015 he became RCT Homes’ Interim Director of Homes and Neighbourhoods, a post he still fills. That is, when he’s not being Interim Chief Executive as well, a position he’s held since last September. (Does he get paid two consultant’s daily fees?)

I’m told that despite holding two ‘interim’ posts at RCT Homes Barber is never available. Is he off moonlighting, being a ‘consultant’ to somebody else!

It’s easy to understand why we, the people who pay, are being denied the facts about RCT Homes, just as with Cantref. For a start, we’d be told how much has been paid out in consultants’ fees. (Because Barber may not be the only ‘consultant’ at RCT Homes.) We’d know what gross inefficiency or corruption caused the implosion. And we’d also learn how much public money had been lost. Our money.

Something obviously went very badly wrong at RCT Homes last year – and it might have been brewing for some time before that – but just as with Cantref, we are not allowed to know the facts. Nobody is to blame, public money doesn’t matter – so mind your own business!

Though information I’ve received suggests that the sackings – for that is what they were – may have been partly due to the manner in which Lycett, Wilson and Pinney administered grants from the Tower Fund, linked to Tower colliery, and Meadow Prospect, the charitable arm of RCT Homes. If you were ‘in’, then you got a grant, if not, well . . . There is also said to be an unaccounted for deficit of £10,000 in the Tower Fund.

Tower Fund

Something else that might have contributed to the threesome’s downfall was the planned housing on Penrhys, above the Rhondda valleys.

A source has written: “Various deals were made to build more houses on Penrhys with dodgy firms some that didn’t even exist. One such scheme for several millions was fronted by a local builder who said he was raising the money on his mortgage for example”. Is this for real!

After reading this I delved into my archives (they can’t touch you for it!) and lo and behold! what did I turn up from September 2012 but Penrhys: What’s Happening? Regrettably, the comments were lost when those bastards at Google pulled the plug on my earlier blog due to some other bastard complaining about something I’d written – can you believe that!

Anyway, my guess is that there’s a lot more to be unearthed about RCT Homes, so please point me in the right direction, folks.

PEMBROKESHIRE HOUSING AND MILL BAY HOMES

This content had to be removed under threat of legal action from Hugh James of Cardiff acting for Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes.

 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Seeing as so much Welsh public funding is being used to build social housing in Wales (or at least, being diverted to housing associations) we, the people of Wales, have every right to be assured that the money is being properly spent. Here are some observations and recommendations:

1/ RSLs should do what it says on the tin – provide social housing for those within Welsh communities who need social housing.

     They should not build student accommodation; they should not build properties for sale to ‘investors’; they should not enter into partnerships with the Probation Service and other bodies seeking to ‘relocate’ undesirables to Wales. In short, RSLs should not deviate from their raison d’être.

2/ There must be far better monitoring of RSLs by the ‘Welsh’ Government. More rigorous oversight would allow a ‘doctor’ to be sent in rather than an ‘undertaker’. 

     Though it must be a better system than the current one of importing ‘consultants’ at exorbitant fees, especially when those ‘consultants’ so often remain as ‘interim’ executives.

3/ RSLs should not be allowed to create ‘subsidiaries’ in the hope of using these to avoid legislation applying to RSLs or any other devious purpose.

4/ RSLs must be covered by the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

5/ A RSL must demonstrate need for social housing from within a community before funding is awarded or planning permission granted for new social housing within that community.

6/ No tenancies are to be awarded to anyone who has not lived in Wales for the three years prior to the application or for five years at some earlier time.

7/ The existing system of Registered Social Landlords and the provision of social housing is unsustainable for the following reasons:

a) The vast amounts of public funding they absorb, too much of which is spent on salaries, pensions and administrative costs.

b) The inefficient or non-existent monitoring and oversight by the ‘Welsh’ Government.

c) The fact that RSLs underperform, making little real impact on housing need.

8/ In the medium to longer term RSLs must either a) have their public funding withdrawn and become private companies or b) their housing stock – built with public funding – must be taken back into local authority control or some other form of public ownership.

     Given the colonial relationship between Wales and England privatised social housing companies would inevitably be swallowed up by larger English companies; consequently (and reluctantly), I prefer the public ownership option. Not least because this course is more likely to create jobs within Wales and to keep money circulating within the Welsh economy.

END

17 thoughts on “Housing Associations – All Change?

  1. Red Flag

    So it seems through all this and your other posts that there is some cross-border activity going on and when I said the the Shelter Cymru officer I know said “nebulous structure of it all – it’s not as defined and straightforward as people think” – she was bang on the money.

    I take it ‘charitable arm’ is where I was getting confused about them being charities.

  2. Sibrydionmawr

    Not all housing associations are registered charities, but many have become such due to a massive scare, (though how serious the threat was is debateable)in the late 90s or early noughties that exemption corporation tax would be abolished for RSLs. Charities are exempt from corporation tax, but crucially, it cuts down on accountability to tenants in that there are some arcane rules that restrict the influence of beneficiaries in the running of charities. This is normally perhaps a good thing, but even prior to the mass conversion of HAs to charitable status it was recognised that RSLs are a completely different kind of organisation, and that rule about limiting the role of beneficiaries, i.e. tenants in this instance is inappropriate. If tenants have a controlling say in how an RSL is run it makes it very difficult indeed for the paid management to do what they want. Of course, there is the flip side, as governments are also opposed to tenants having what they consider too much control, as it makes it very difficult indeed to implement changes as they have to be decided democratically.

  3. Wynne

    Excellent post again Jac. The can of worms has been opened and the worms are beginning to spread in all directions. In my view, all your recommendations should be implemented with immediate effect. Hope they decide to employ your services as a consultant at a £1000 per day. It would be money well spent.

    1. The status of Mill Bay Homes is intriguing. But the wider picture on housing associations is depressing. Everywhere you look you see the same problems due to all sorts of reasons, but the ‘Welsh’ Government is ultimately culpable. No wonder it keeps the reports secret and maintains the exemption from FoI legislation. The civil servants who operate in the name of the ‘Welsh’ Government are protecting themselves.

  4. Wynne

    An interesting point to note regarding Mill Bay Homes’ development at Crundale. I assume one principal contractor was appointed to deliver 62 dwellings. If 11 of those dwellings are being let by the parent company Pembrokeshire Housing it is logical to assume that Social Housing Grant would have been transferred from parent to subsidiary company to fund their construction. This raises the obvious question of how this was monitored and recorded as we now know that the regulator does not have his “finger on the pulse”. One private estate, but with some dwellings presumably part funded by the taxpayer.

    1. The more I think about it the more I suspect that Mill Bay Homes was created or devised solely to confuse. Easily done when, as you say, ‘the regulator does not have his “finger on the pulse”’.

      As in any field of human activity, if nobody’s watching you then you can do what you damn well like. And that, I believe, is what’s happening in Pembrokeshire.

  5. Wynne

    With regard to Cantref’s project at High Street Cardigan to renovate and extend shop premises to provide 14 flats I am still awaiting response to my enquiry as to whether grant-eligible costs {residential} and non grant-eligible costs {commercial} have been separately recorded. Welsh Government who allocated £750,000 in social housing grant and Ceredigion Council who administer the grant on behalf of Welsh Government referred me to Cantref for an explanation. Nobody appears to be in control here.

    1. When the takeover is complete you’ll probably receive a reply along the lines of, ‘Before our time, nothing to do with us, can’t help you’.

      My real interest now is in establishing the status of the shadowy Mill Bay Homes, and I know you’re working on it, Wynne, so please keep us informed.

        1. My suspicion grows that Mill Bay Homes is a ship of convenience for Pembrokeshire Housing. This would explain why it is not a registered charity; why it is not registered with the ‘Welsh’ Government as a social landlord; why it is not a company registered with Companies House; and why, even though it was briefly registered as an Industrial and Provident Society, it has filed nothing since October 2013.

          When you put it all together it suggests that Mill Bay Homes may even be a ghost ship. (Seeing as we’re in Pembrokeshire I felt I had license to employ nautical metaphors and allusions.)

          1. Wynne

            I like the nautical metaphors. The truth will emerge in due course. The silence from regulators is deafening.

  6. Andy@MBHWreckers

    Mill Bay Homes Ltd and Pembrokeshire Housing Association are one and the same company although Mr Peter Maggs CEO of PHA and Company Secretary Mill Bay Homes Ltd would contest that Mill Bay Homes operates at ‘arms length’ from the parent PHA. According to the Welsh Assembly, Mill Bay Homes Ltd is a now a subsidiary of PHA and shares the same RSL Registration No P072. According to the consolidated accounts of the ‘group’ for 2015, PHA loaned Mill Bay £6.1m which compared with £1.7m in 2014 – I’m sure this will prove to be a worthwhile investment of taxpayers money by PHA as the ‘quality living’ homes are selling like hot cakes if you believe the Mill Bay hype!

    My view is that Mill Bay Homes is a the ‘nasty’ arm of PHA and in the opinion of legal advisers who have represented me against them amongst the worst of property developers they’ve encountered. I have challenged Mr Maggs about Mill Bay and their lack of social conscience but he has rebutted this by stating that he has no involvement in the day to day operation of Mill Bay – his lack of accountability is staggering. I could write a book about the way me and my family and others have been treated by Mill Bay Homes Ltd since and when certain legal action is concluded I will certainly be making some interesting revaluations.

  7. Dai the Post

    Mr Maggs has now retired but a certain mr david hedges has reappeared at Pembrokeshire housing as an interim housing director. We are not sure whether he is there via campbell tickell and Welsh government or as another mates rates freelance job which does not appear to have been advertised unless it was in the Cardiff or London journal? The next target for Wales and west is the rumour here in castell Emlyn

    1. It could be coincidence, but Hedges was at Cantref before it was taken over by Wales and West, and now he’s at Pembrokeshire Housing with rumours it’s to be taken over by the same Labour-run housing association. The question is, who put Hedges into Cantref and PH?

      This might help make your mind up.

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