Social Housing: One Step Forward(?), One Step Back

I am indebted to Dennis Morris of Plaid Glyndwr (south Pembrokeshire and nationalist) for bringing to my attention a recent snippet about one of my favourite subjects – social housing.

It’s not easy to make sense of the report on the BBC website, for the headline talks of a ‘Post’ while the article (click to enlarge) gives no further information on any such new post. The article talks of both renting property and buying, but without giving any clue as to what the scheme is supposed to achieve. In fact, the article confuses more than anything else. It’s journalistic gibberish.

Even so, we must assume that Ceredigion council, with the help of the ‘Welsh’ Government, plans to introduce a scheme that will help local people rent or buy property in “their local community”. But we already have ‘affordable housing’ and social housing, so why do we need yet another scheme? One answer might be that locals seem to be at the back of the queue every time, as priority for social housing is given to people from over the border, the bigger their ‘problems’, or their families, the better.

Which explains why we keep revisiting this issue – the problem is not being solved. For example, here’s a link to a similar story from 2010, again concerning Ceredigion. When you have a problem that just about everyone can see for what it is, and when it is discussed endlessly, with repeated promises to remedy the problem, but nothing improves, then you have to ask what the hell is going on. Here’s my interpretation. First, there is a deliberate and concerted strategy at work to colonise Wales with English settlers. This includes those who cannot afford to buy a home . . . even those who may not want to move to Wales! But benefit-dependent families can’t be choosers, so they are being shipped in whether they like it or not.

The ONLY answer to this problem is to change the rules so that in the allocation of social housing being local – i.e. Welsh – outweighs any number of ‘problems’, or kids. Our politicians, especially the so-called ‘Welsh’ Government needs to get a handle on this issue. A start could be made by reining in the civil servants, such as those at the Housing Directorate, who are doing so much damage with the rules they set. Ostensibly working for Wales but in reality answering to London. Simply changing the points system would achieve more than any number of new posts, and it would be far cheaper. It would also save us the regularly regurgitated flim-flam. Moving north . . .

In 2010 Gwynedd’s stock of council housing was transferred, following a tenants’ vote, to Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd. Although I’m no longer a tenant (having gratefully bought my house under the Right to Buy scheme) I take an interest in CCG. One of the first things I noticed was that the new outfit’s vehicles were registered in Essex (maybe a deal with Ford) and they sport ‘UK’ plates. How difficult would it have been to ask for ‘Cymru’ plates, this is Gwynedd, after all?

The new housing association of course inherited part of the Gwynedd workforce, but we see less and less of CCG’s own workers as jobs are increasingly contracted out. Initially, it seemed that these jobs were contracted out to Gwynedd firms. More recently, to firms in other parts of the north, and now to firms from outside of Wales altogether. I noticed this recently with vans in my village for two companies in particular: Lovell of Staffordshire and DNA Plastering & Tiling Ltd of Wigan. (I CCGcan find no website for DNA, which was only incorporated as a company in December 2011!) As might be expected, I contacted Cartefi Cymunedol Gwynedd, or rather, I initiated a Twitter exchange. (Click to enlarge.)

Now, in fairness, Lovell does have a ‘regional’ office . . . in Altrincham, for the ‘North West and North Wales’. In its defence, CCG argues that of the 144 Lovell workers on CCH contracts 124 live in North Wales. I have no way of checking that. But even if it’s true, how many of them are Welsh? Even if they’re all Welsh, Lovell remains an English company with profits – from work in Wales – going back over the border.

When it comes to DNA CCG throws in the towel with: “We monitor our contractors & subcontractors closely and set targets to ensure local people are employed whenever possible”. ‘WHENEVER POSSIBLE!!’ God Almighty! this is supposed to be a Welsh company; it takes money from Welsh people, yet it feels under no obligation to provide Welsh people with jobs! Nor does it feel it has any responsibility to the local economy of which it is part, and upon which its tenants rely!

More than likely, what has happened here is that the main contract was given to Lovell, who have then sub-contracted some of the work to DNA. But this is what happens when the main contract is awarded to an English company, which will use the sub-contractors it regularly employs. Though the body awarding the main contract can insist that the sub-contracts go to local firms . . . obviously CCG couldn’t be bothered. Better still, and to avoid any such problems – award the main contract to a Welsh company, or keep it in-house.

I live in a small, relatively isolated village, so I can only report what I have seen with my own eyes, the problem may be much more widespread. Something is clearly wrong at Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd. It is now surely time for local politicians to take an interest – for it is their constituents, and the local economy, losing out as a result of CCG awarding contracts to English firms (irrespective of whether they employ a few Welsh workers). At the very least I would expect our local politicians to query the tendering process at CCG. Establish whether it takes into account the benefit of keeping money in the area, and that this ensures ‘weighting’ that results in accepting higher tenders from local firms. Speaking of ‘weighting’, does the tendering process also take into account the environmental impact of workers from England travelling to work in western Wales?

I can’t help feeling that, one way or another, social housing providers are now part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. A review of how social housing is delivered in Wales is long overdue.

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