Wales is a small country, and once you start delving into the darker recesses of public life you uncover organisations of which you’ve never heard, you discover avenues of questionable funding, and you see names cropping up over and over again. This interconnectedness is not healthy; especially when so many of the shadowy groups and individuals influencing political decisions in Wales have minimal knowledge of our country and serve agendas that are dismissive of or hostile towards the best interests of the Welsh nation.
Everywhere you look in the public life of Wales you find English-run organisations of limited or negligible benefit to Welsh people yet enjoying wholly disproportionate political influence and seemingly unlimited funding. In fact, the more I study how Wales is run, the clearer it becomes how badly the interests of the indigenous Welsh are served. Seventeen years on, those who voted devolution into existence are a forgotten and neglected people.
Here are some examples that should help explain what I’m condemning.
In my previous post I dealt with the bright young things of the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre. Though as questions remained unanswered about the structure of the group I sent an e-mail to the parent body, the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales (an object lesson in short, snappy names, these people). The reply, from Diana Clark, Executive Officer, began, ‘Dear Roy, I hope you are keeping well’. I don’t know the woman, so the unwarranted familiarity was mildly offensive. Recovering my composure I perused the information Ms Clark supplied. On the left you will see the management team, though I have no idea why this can’t be made available on the website. Maybe some of these names will register with readers. The chief executive seems to be yet another fairly recent arrival in our country, who also serves on PONT . . .
I know, you’ve never heard of PONT, and neither had I. The acronym stands for Pori, Natur a Threftadaeth (Grazing, Nature and Heritage), here’s a link to their website. It appears to be yet another publicly-funded environmentalist group with a fig leaf Welsh presence to disguise its real intention, which seems to be curbing ‘over-grazing’, perhaps a euphemism for farming (though Georges Monbiot’s name is not on the website). I assume PONT is still in existence, for I see ‘Copyright 2014’ at the foot of the page, but no Annual Report after 2010. If PONT is still in existence, and still receiving funding from the ‘Welsh’ Government (as shown on other Annual Reports), there should be a more recent Annual Report available.
Maybe PONT had a hand in persuading Alun Davies, recently sacked Minister for Environment and Food in the ‘Welsh’ Government to reduce funding to our farmers and transfer it to “rural development projects” back in January. In other words, to Greens, hippies and other invaders who don’t give a toss about us Welsh. Note how the department name even avoids using the words ‘agriculture’ or ‘farming’. More on Alun Davies later.
Returning to the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, the over-familiar Ms Clark also provided me with the company structure of her organisation (click on panel to enlarge). All fairly straightforward, and easy enough to understand, even for those who don’t like flowcharts. I was however drawn to the mention of Autumn Peaks down towards the bottom, and described as a ‘dormant trading company’, so I did a little investigating.
The first thing I discovered was that the name given is incorrect. According to Companies House the correct name is Autumn Peak Ltd., based at ‘The Nature Centre, Fountain Road, Tondu, Bridgend’, and that it is still active with the next Returns due on November 8th this year. (The company number is 03262690.) Yet it is described in the 2013 WTSWW Accounts thus: “It (the WTSWW charity) also wholly owns a dormant subsidiary, Autumn Peaks Ltd which also operates two charities as inactive companies, Glamorgan Wildlife Trust Ltd and Wildlife Trust West Wales Ltd”.
Turning to DueDil I learned that the very forward Ms Clark became Autumn Peak’s Company Secretary on February 11th, 2008. The only other directors being Dr. Ruth Watkins and Mr Peter Gerald Hunter. There have been thirteen directors since the company was formed in 1996, by the Glamorgan Wildlife Trust Ltd, all of them now in their 60s, 70s and 80s, apart from the aforementioned Ms Clark who, at 55, is a mere slip of a gel, which may account for her flibbertigibbet attitude in dealing with business correspondence.
Of more interest were the figures provided on Autumn Peak by DueDil, which suggest that as a ‘trading company’ it was not a great success. By December 2000 it was well up Shit Creek with total liabilities of £170,000. How did a nature reserve run up debts like this? Did this ruinous adventure pave the way for the merger in April, 2002 with Wildlife Trust, West Wales Ltd? Was public funding used to resolve the situation?
In the flowchart you will see another company mentioned, this one still active, DWT Ltd. It was not straightforward to track down because, again, the company name is given wrongly; it is in fact DWT (Enterprises) Ltd, company number 02702793. Registered at the same Bridgend address as Autumn Peak Ltd, and incorporated on April 4th, 1992, over four years before the ill-fated Autumn Peak.
This subsidiary is described thus in the 2013 Accounts: “The Charity (the WTSWW) owns the whole of the issued ordinary share capital of DWT (Enterprises) Ltd, a company registered in Wales (Company No: 2702793). This subsidiary is used for non-primary purpose trading activities – namely the provision of holiday accommodation on nature reserves,
catering for visitors and the retailing of bought-in goods to visitors”. The company secretary is Gillian Clark.
The chart for DWT (Enterprises) Ltd suggests that it took on the debts of Autumn Peak and has limped along ever since. While not as far up Shit Creek as Autumn Peak managed to get it has definitely turned into that side stream with liabilities in excess of assets for the past four years.
The third company listed in the flowchart is ‘WTSWW Ltd’, a name that, again, will get you nowhere unless you have the full name, which is of course, The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales Ltd. The company number is 04398959, and it’s a private company limited by guarantee and listed as a non-trading company in the business of “Botanical and zoological gardens and nature reserves activities”.
The chart for WTSWW Ltd looks pretty healthy; cash in the bank of £910,936 and net worth of over £2.5m. Though this may be a little misleading as Companies House makes reference to nine outstanding mortgages, which almost certainly accounts for the bulk of the assets. The company secretary is, again, Ms Diana Gillian Clark. In fact she is listed as company secretary for five companies; in addition to the three mentioned here, we can add The Wildlife Trust (West Wales) Ltd and The Glamorgan Wildlife Trust Ltd. She took on all five posts in January and February 2008.
The WTSWW is also a registered charity, number 1091562. And it’s there you can find the most recent set of accounts. The accounts confirm, under ‘Tangible Fixed Assets’ just under £1.5m in ‘Freehold Nature Reserves’ Among a multiplicity of other fascinating facts contained therein my eye was drawn again to the name DWT (Enterprises) Ltd (the still active trading arm), where I learnt that this company returned a trading loss of £5,035 yet spent £137,205 on staff costs! I shall repeat that for the hard of reading: This company spent over 137 grand employing staff who obviously possess as much commercial nous as your average Labour politician or, for that matter, Third Sector scrounger. In total – salaries, wages, social security and pension costs – the Wildlife Trust for South and West Wales spent £546,899 on staff. So where did it come from . . . cos it sure as hell didn’t come from the ‘trading arms’!
Donations and Gifts amounted to £106,685; Legacies came to £266,444; Fundraising brought in 72,197; and Grants £970,712. Of the latter figure (p25) the greater part comes, by one route or another, from the ‘Welsh’ Government. One grant I would like more information on is the one listed simply as ‘S106’ for exactly £100,000. Update 21.07.14: It seems that S106 refers to a community infrastructure levy paid by developers to local authorities. So which local authority gave the WTSWW £100,000? This levy is supposed to be used for community benefits – how does that apply in this case? There may be a good reason why the Trust is so vague about the details. (Diolch i AK.)
The way the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales operates could be described thus. It persuades old dears not to leave all their money to cats homes; it begs from anyone else with money, including the ‘Welsh’ Government; but the WTSWW raises very little itself of the cash it spends on buying up parcels of Wales in order to provide further employment and recreation for its friends. Now this might be acceptable if the work done was beneficial to the Welsh people, but it’s not. Though if the ‘Welsh’ Government does deem this work to be important then, rather than throwing money at people who clearly couldn’t run a whelk stall, why don’t they do it themselves and provide employment for the people they claim to represent?
If the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales was a private company it would have gone bankrupt long ago. But it’s not a private company, and it has a great advantage over private companies in an unending supply of funding from external sources. Which means that these hectoring and manipulative poseurs can be nonchalant with how they spend that money, which leads to trading arms that run up massive debts, or subsidising the beach bums of the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre and other holiday camps for the English middle class.
Many of you will have missed the news that Nick Bennett is the new Public Services Ombudsman for Wales. ‘Who the hell is he?’ I hear you shout. Well, for some years prior to taking on his new job he was, from July 2006, chief executive of Community Housing Cymru, the umbrella organisation for housing associations. Reading of Mr Bennett’s new appointment made me remember my only contact with him.
It came in a rather strange way, just before Christmas 2010. I had sent a letter for publication to the Wasting Mule. In it I asked Nick Bennett why Welsh housing associations were taking in criminals and other undesirables from England. The letter was not published but instead I received a remarkable e-mail from Pat English, the Mule‘s Letters Editor, which began: “Mr Jones, here are the detailed answers to your points, from Nick Bennett …”
In over forty years of writing to newspapers and other publications I have never received a response in that manner. In his lengthy reply that followed Pat English’s intro one phrase Bennett used confirmed for me that Welsh housing associations are linked to and co-operating with their English counterparts. For in among the denials and unconvincing excuses was this revelatory gem: “There are over two million people on waiting lists for social housing . . . “ ‘Over two million’ – in Wales! For this, remember, was written by the chief executive of Community Housing Cymru.
So what else do we know about Nick Bennett? Well, from November 2000 to October 2002 he was a special adviser (spad) to Mike German, one-time leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Notional Assembly. Then (on his Linkedin front page) there is a gap until April 2004, when he becomes a director of Cwmni Cyfathrebu Bute Communications Ltd, company number 05076125. The other directors were Professor John Last and a Mr Alun Davies. The professor, originally from Liverpool, and a retired academic, is still a busy man, serving on the St. Asaph Diocesan Board of Finance and the Bodelwyddan Castle Trust. The panel (right) is taken from the Glyndŵr University website, for Professor Last is a former governor. A perfect exemplar for those who populate the upper reaches of ‘Welsh’ public life. The other director is of course, Alun Davies AM, the recently sacked Minister for Environment and Food.
Let’s look at recent Welsh political history to see if it can offer any clues to Nick Bennett’s career. From 2000 to 2003 there was a Labour-Lib Dem coalition down Cardiff docks, in which his boss Mike German was Deputy First Minister. This would have allowed spad Bennett to put himself about, to ‘network’ and ‘touch base’ with those who mattered, especially in the Labour Party. This probably accounts for him going into business with Alun Davies. From 2003 to 2007 Labour had an overall majority, so we can be certain that his friendship with rising star Davies didn’t do him any harm when he applied for the job of Group Chief Executive at Community Housing Cymru. Coming up to date, Bennett was appointed to the post of Public Services Ombudsman in March 2014, when Alun Davies, his former business partner, was still a popular and influential minister in the ‘Welsh’ Government. Naught but coincidences, of course.
Having mentioned Bennett’s earlier business venture with Alun Davies, Bute Communications, it seems only right and fair to mention another; one that looks suspiciously like another ‘trading arm’ of a publicly-funded Third Sector body. It is called – for it still exists – ‘Community Housing Cymru – Policy and Research Ltd’. The graph suggests another great example of Third Sector ‘enterprise’. Current liabilities exactly match current assets, with net assets (i.e. book value) of £1, and a turnover of considerably less than your average whelk stall.
And now Nick Bennett is the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales. Within his jurisdiction will be all his old friends in the housing associations, who can be guaranteed to generate many complaints. Those bodies that he assured me do not import criminals, ‘problem families’ and other riff-raff from England (though he was unwilling to put it in writing in the Wasting Mule). His years spent smooching politicos will probably ensure that no one with good political connections will ever feel the wrath of his office. Welcome to the nest of vipers that is public life in Wales!
This is a truly amazing system, one I have written about over many years. A sphere of Welsh life run by, and for the sole benefit of, those with little business acumen and weak links to Wales (but often strong connections to the Labour Party).
Politicians – Labour, Plaid Cymru and Liberal Democrat – see nothing wrong in showering these incompetents with billions of pounds of public funding to do what could be done cheaper, more efficiently, and with more accountability, by either the private or the public sector. As an example of the amounts involved, since 1999 over one billion pounds has been given, from a single funding stream (Social Housing Grant), to housing associations.
Whereas in healthily functioning democracies commercial interests spend money lobbying politicians and trying to influence legislation for their own financial gain, this being Wales – where private enterprise and commercial activity is regarded with the greatest suspicion – the government actually funds Left wing and Green pressure groups to produce ideas to be turned into legislation that then results in further support and funding for those very same groups!
When the inevitable corruption, incompetence and financial disasters occur, the ‘Welsh’ Government’s natural reaction is to hush it up and / or pour in more money. Made easier by the absence of a national media capable of anything more demanding than regurgitating press releases, and self-justifying Third Sector reports, as ‘News’.
This is the road to national destitution, and explains why Wales is getting poorer, year on year, compared to just about every other part of Europe. Also less democratic. This system must be dismantled if Wales and the Welsh people are to prosper.