Poor old Swansea! victim of devolution and Cardiff-centricity

PLEASE APPRECIATE THAT I GET SENT MORE INFORMATION AND LEADS THAN I CAN USE. I TRY TO RESPOND TO EVERYONE WHO CONTACTS ME BUT I CANNOT POSSIBLY USE EVERY BIT OF INFORMATION I’M SENT. DIOLCH YN FAWR

THE TOWN I LOVED SO WELL

As you’re probably aware, I am a native of Swansea; as it says on my Twitter profile, “A Jack by blood, birth, upbringing and inclination”. Despite having spent most of my life away from the city it remains my home town, it’s where my roots lie, and it’s where my heart will ever be. (Cue violins.)

When I was very young Swansea was still pulling itself together after being knocked about by the Luftwaffe, and despite the disastrous rebuilding of the centre we kids accepted it – ‘modern, see’. Of course, our parents and grandparents missed the old town, Ben Evans department store (‘the Harrods of Wales’) and all the rest.

And as Dylan Thomas reminds us in Return Journey, so much else was gone, including the famous Kardomah cafe, where he had ‘argued the toss’ with Vernon Watkins, Dan Jones, Arthur Janes and the rest of the gang.

A view from pre-war Swansea, courtesy of Swansea Recalled, click to enlarge

On the economic front, the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s were pretty good, you could tell the boss to F— Off on Friday and find a fresh job on Monday.

Despite what Turks and other disbelievers might say, we had the best rugby team in Wales; in summer, Glamorgan could pull 20,000 to St Helen’s, and in football, well, most of the 1958 World Cup team came from Swansea, and if Big John hadn’t been hacked out by the Hungarians in the previous game we would have beaten Brazil and won the competition.

Obviously there was some disappointment when in 1955 Cardiff was named capital, but we soon got over it because what did the title mean in practical terms? So we shrugged and continued to enjoy being the pre-eminent sub-species.

But since the 1980s it’s been noticeably downhill for Swansea in just about every conceivable sphere. And devolution has only made things worse.

BALLS, AND PLAYING SILLY BUGGERS

I’ve mentioned St Helen’s Rugby and Cricket Ground (to give it its full name), which opened in 1873 and held Wales’ first-ever home rugby international in 1882. It hosted rugby internationals until 1954. I suppose some might say that Swansea’s decline began when it lost rugby international games to Cardiff. For Swansea’s loss is invariably Cardiff’s gain.

Glamorgan v West Indies at St Helen’s, August 1950. Courtesy of Casgliad y Werin. Click to enlarge.

Since losing rugby international matches in 1954 St Helen’s has also lost Glamorgan CCC games to the Sophia Gardens in Cardiff, where crowds are smaller than they were at St Helen’s. So the move would appear to make no economic sense, but that’s to miss the point, for the Swalec Stadium was built so that Cardiff can host England games. Yes, honestly. This of course brings money into the city, but with collateral damage in the loss of our national cricket team.

A loss the political and business leaders of Cardiff consider a price worth paying. Which tells us a number of things, among them that it’s not simply Swansea that loses out to Cardiff’s insatiable greed and self-aggrandisement.

Of course, some of Swansea’s wounds are self-inflicted. The city centre is a disaster area. The planning of traffic movement, one-way systems, pedestrianisation and the rest could have been handed over to a bunch of ten-year-olds forty years ago and today they could be showing their adult children around the city with pride – because they couldn’t have done a worse job than successive city administrations. Administrations that, with all-too-brief interludes, have been Labour.

The most recent such interlude was from 2004 until 2012 when the Liberal Democrat-led Swansea Administration ran the council in coalition with assorted others. In 2004 Plaid Cymru had five councillors, the group led by Darren Price, but refused to join the coalition, deluding itself it held the balance of power and could therefore dictate things. Which didn’t work out, so towards the end Price was having regular and quite open meetings with David ‘Il Duce‘ Phillips, the Labour leader, and ‘Rocking’ Rene Kinzett, local Tory hetman.

This unholy alliance eventually triumphed and Il Duce was restored to power in 2012, carried aloft by a crowd of thousands marching down the Mumbles Road singing the Red Flag interspersed with throaty renditions of For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow. (OK, I made that bit up.)

Alas, ‘Rocking’ Rene fell from grace, and his fall was complete when he was caught with child pornography. Il Duce was soon overthrown in a coup and also ended up in court, but for fly-tipping and taking over somebody else’s garage, with the rightful owner describing Phillips as a “nutcase”!

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In the elections of 2008 Plaid Cymru went down to one seat, and since 2012 it has had none. Darren Price crossed over and sold his soul to Beelzebub. (Trans: is a councillor in Carmarthenshire serving His Omnipotence Mark James.) Today Plaid Cymru barely exists in Swansea. Some ‘Party of Wales’, eh?

That said, not all the wounds were self-inflicted, and not when it comes to the state of the city centre. For long before the rise of internet shopping started doing its damage Swansea’s city centre was being undermined by out-of-town shopping, though as I say, this time the council was not entirely to blame.

Certainly not when it came to the Swansea Enterprise Park on the east side of the River Tawe, overlooked by Bonymaen and Llansamlet, the first and largest Enterprise Zone (as it originally was) in the UK, covering some 735 acres. Planned for light manufacturing and warehousing retailing was given the green light by Nicholas Edwards, Secretary of State for Wales under Margaret Thatcher until 1987.

Major stores and other retail outlets locating to the Enterprise Park certainly hurt the city centre, but then, Edwards couldn’t be bothered with that, because he had bigger fish to fry. For Nicholas Edwards was a man with big plans for Cardiff through the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation, set up by him to pump public money into land owned by Associated British Ports, of which he just happened to be the leading director.

This, perhaps the biggest single rip-off of public funding in Welsh history, is detailed in Corruption Bay, a document I compiled almost 20 years ago, but the facts, and the interpretations, still hold up.

DEVOLUTION – SHAFTED AGAIN!

Corruption Bay also explains why our Notional Assembly came to be located in Cardiff Bay – for the benefit of Associated British Ports, and as a ‘consolation prize’ for the opera house was that was never built. For among the countless ‘hats’ worn by Nick Edwards were director of the Welsh National Opera and chairman of the Cardiff Bay Opera Trust.

Even though Cardiff Bay eventually won the Assembly Swansea Guildhall was the only site that met the criteria on value for money and availability set out by Secretary of State Ron Davies in the search for a home for the new institution after negotiations over Cardiff City Hall – the assumed location for the Assembly – collapsed. But once again, Swansea was done down by certain influencers in Cardiff. (Explained in Corruption Bay.)

This competition ‘won’ by Swansea seems to have been written out of recent Welsh history; but then, as Churchill said, history is written by the victors, and what passes for the ‘Welsh media’ is the voice of Cardiff. (Fortunately, the subterranean and bomb-proof Jo’tN archives contain a library of newspaper articles from the period.)

After the ‘competition’ was launched, and as the terrifying prospect of the Assembly being housed in Swansea sunk in, the Western Mail and the rest of the ‘Welsh media’ went into hyper-drive, even accusing politicians and civil servants of leaning on Ron Davies to favour Swansea, as this ludicrous article from 3 March 1998 spells out.

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Yes, Rachel Lomax, then top civil servant at the Welsh Office, had been born in Swansea; and yes, there was something odd and unconvincing about her spat with council leader Russell Goodway over leasing Cardiff City Hall; but there was never any danger of the Assembly not being in Cardiff, but it was going to the Bay, for the benefit of Nick Edwards and his mates in Associated British Ports.

Which meant that the real beneficiaries of a National Assembly for Wales were a bunch of Tories who had always opposed devolution. They laughed all the way to their banks. (Which were probably offshore.)

And poor old Swansea got shafted, yet again.

NOTHING CHANGES

In recent years Swansea has received further blows in the form of rail electrification ending at Cardiff thanks to Chris Grayling, the man who never gets anything wrong; and the plug being pulled on the tidal lagoon.

How energetically Swansea’s case was argued by the self-styled ‘Welsh Government’ is anyone’s guess. If I had to put money on it, I’d say the response was, ‘OK, fair enough, we’ll pass the message on’.

Even after the disappointment of electrification and the tidal lagoon there were still bright spots in the gloom. Among them, the growing reputation of Swansea University, and its increasingly lucrative spin-offs.

Since 1998, when the Times and Sunday Times started publishing their ‘Good University Guide’, Cardiff University had been top in Wales, but by 2016 things were changing in favour of Swansea University. A change confirmed in the 2019 Guide. (Though for some reason WalesOnline thinks the change happened in 2019!)

But lo! out of a clear blue sky, and just before Christmas, came the bombshell that senior figures at Swansea University had been suspended. Apparently this was connected with the University’s links to the Wellness Village in Llanelli, pet project of His Omnipotence Mark James.

Llanelli’s planned Wellness Village, click to enlarge

Now I won’t deny that the Wellness Village project may be the ultimate vanity project; and maybe the University’s involvement should have appeared more institutional than personal; but at the same time, I can imagine certain interests in Cardiff jumping at the opportunity to take Swansea University down a peg or two. And the ‘Welsh Government’ was only too happy to assist.

Vice-Chancellor Richard Davies has been replaced by Paul Boyle, an uninspiring Englishman who is “looking forward to being back by the sea!” – is he going paddling? No doubt Boyle is under instructions to rein in Swansea’s ambition and not get ideas above his University’s ordained station (below Cardiff in any rankings that matter).

UPDATE 13.03.2019: Just one day after I published this post the Western Mail, which used to be known as Llais y Sais (voice of the English), and could more correctly be re-named Llais Caerdydd (voice of Cardiff), published another piece it hoped would reflect badly on Swansea University. The unmistakeable message in the unattributed article is that these donations are ‘irregular’, perhaps dirty money.

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AND THEN THERE’S THE WELSH RUGBY UNION

It’s difficult to know where to start with this section, because rarely, even in the history of Wales, have so many been pissed off by so few. The few in question belong to the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) and something called the Professional Rugby Board. Few would have heard of the PRB until last week.

For it was last week we heard that the WRU intended forcing through a merger of the Ospreys (the West Glamorgan region) and the Scarlets, the Llanelli super club. Not only that, but we also learnt that the WRU had previously tried to force through a ‘merger’ of the Ospreys with Cardiff Blues, another club that rejected regional rugby back in 2003.

No matter on which level we consider this, or from which angle we approach it, these proposed ‘mergers’ are insane. The Ospreys are Wales’s most successful rugby outfit yet the WRU wants to do away with them.

And then, how drunk do you have to be to think that Swansea rugby fans, having seen their team killed off, would travel the 40-odd miles to support Cardiff?

And when it comes to the takeover by Llanelli Scarlets, the WRU’s argument is that the Ospreys are broke while the Scarlets are in rude financial health. Llanelli Scarlets were for a long time kept afloat by the WRU, then Carmarthenshire County Council – Mark James again – took over the life-support system and poured in millions of pounds of council taxpayers’ money.

People in the world of rugby are laughing openly at the Welsh Rugby Union. Click to enlarge

Not only that, but all manner of imaginative special arrangements were dreamed up by Mark James to keep Llanelli Scarlets, and their white elephant stadium, afloat. Because Parc y Scarlets has never been financially viable. Whereas the Ospreys have no such worries because they share the Liberty Stadium with the Swans.

Mark James retires in June, and when he’s gone those who have cowered in his shadow this many a year may grow cojones and start questioning some of his decisions. Not least why Carmarthenshire County Council has written off millions of pounds owed to the people of Carmarthenshire by Llanelli Scarlets. And why revenue was lost in ‘concessions’ and all manner of questionable arrangements.

But anyone, in the Welsh Rugby Union, or anywhere else, who thinks that Llanelli Scarlets is a financial success story must be relying on the kind of accountants who appear on this blog . . . and often appear before a judge and jury.

Looking east, the WRU owns Newport Dragons, the least successful of our four ‘regions’. Newport is the same distance from Cardiff as Llanelli is from Swansea, so why not merge Cardiff and Newport into a South East region, and have them play at a new stadium to be built in Pontypridd or Pontypool? For neither Cardiff nor Newport has made any serious attempt to engage with their Valleys’ hinterlands. Making a mockery of ‘regional rugby’.

Another aspect is that these absurd mergers were proposed because the WRU wants a new region in the north. Back in 2003, when regional rugby was being discussed, David Moffett, then group CEO of the Welsh Rugby Union, proposed four regions: North, West (Llanelli, Swansea, Neath and others playing in Swansea), South (Cardiff, Pontypridd, Bridgend and the Central Valleys), and East (Gwent).

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Llanelli, Cardiff and Newport refused to become regions but called themselves regions anyway, and the WRU caved in. Swansea and Neath merged to form the Ospreys, a genuine region, and they are now being rewarded with oblivion.

Whatever the WRU’s grand plan may have been – and I’m being generous in assuming there is, or was, a coherent plan – viewed from Swansea this looks like just another Cardiff-based organisation doing Swansea down.

And if the WRU has its way and destroys the Ospreys then a new rugby entity will almost certainly emerge in Swansea and may have no alternative but to affiliate to the English Rugby Football Union. Is that really what those clowns in the WRU and the PRB want?

MAKING SENSE OF IT

Sticking with the Welsh Rugby Union for a minute, nothing surprises me when it comes to that BritNat-Masonic outfit, forever fawning over English royals, with its ludicrous feathers badge. Other countries have emblems representing the country and its people, Wales has one representing an individual claiming to be ‘Prince of Wales’ who has as much claim to the title as my cat.

Looking back to 1955 and the announcement that Cardiff was the official capital of Wales, maybe the rot set in for Swansea then, for it was obvious that, being more convenient for England, all manner of agencies would base themselves in Cardiff. Since then it’s been a drip-drip effect.

Devolution should have ‘evened things out’, but instead it’s made them worse, and not just for Swansea but for every part of Wales other than Cardiff. It used to be said – I heard it back in the 1970s – that devolution would simply give us ‘Glamorgan County Council on stilts’. Devolution has actually given us Cardiff City Council on steroids.

The reason devolution has failed ninety per cent of Wales economically is that concentrating everything in Cardiff has made it easier for bodies concerned only with Cardiff to influence decisions for Wales. For example, I guarantee that the denizens of the Cardiff and County Club have more influence on the economic life of Swansea than Swansea council and all the politicians the Swansea region sends to Cardiff Bay and Westminster combined. And that influence is malign.

And Swansea has no independent voice to speak up for her. The Evening Post, once Wales’s biggest selling daily ‘paper (it may still be), is now printed in England and censored in Cardiff, and losing readers fast; partly because it refuses to criticise the Labour Party, whether in County Hall or Cardiff Bay.

And all the while, thanks to this combination of Labour ineptitude, the lack of an effective media, and Cardiff pushing to become a major provincial city on a par with Bristol or Leeds, Swansea and the rest of the country must pay the price.

Poor old Swansea!

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UPDATE 15.03.2019: From today’s Western Mail. BBC Radio Wales is dropping Mal Pope of Swansea from its schedules and it looks as if it’s also closing the historic Alexandra Road studios from where Dylan Thomas broadcast.

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Welsh Assembly, Time to Move

When the incoming Labour government offered us devolution in 1997 I didn’t get too excited, but still, if Kinnock and George Thomas are against it, I thought, then it might have something going for it. So I voted Yes, but only because I saw devolution as a step on the road to independence. Encouraged by Ron Davies calling devolution “a process, not an event”.

Once the Yes vote had been arranged everyone assumed that the new Assembly would sit in Cardiff City Hall, but a dispute over costs blew up that was never satisfactorily explained. I believe that this spat was contrived, dreamed up in London to compensate Associated British Ports for not getting the planned opera house designed by the late Zaha Hadid.

It was no coincidence that the driving force behind the opera house project – as head man at Welsh National Opera – was Nicholas Edwards (later Lord Crickhowell), Secretary of State for Wales under Margaret Thatcher, and chairman of Associated British Ports, the company that owned Cardiff docks.

With Cardiff City Hall ruled out we had a national ‘competition’ to find a replacement. The ‘winner’, in the sense that it was the only entrant to meet the requirements of price and immediate availability, was Swansea’s pre-war Guildhall designed by Percy Thomas. But in April 1998 Secretary of State Ron Davies announced that the Assembly would be sited in Cardiff after all.

Swansea Guildhall (picture from 1991)

Everyone in Swansea – and indeed people in Cardiff and the rest of Wales – then realised that the ‘competition’ had been a charade, and that the Assembly was going to Cardiff even though there was no site for it. As late as 2001 Swansea politicians were still claiming a conspiracy.

Further, I have always believed that Ron Davies, being vulnerable to pressure, was ‘leaned on’. His justification at the time for ripping up the ‘competition’ rules and awarding the prize to Cardiff was that to have located the Assembly in Swansea would have undermined Cardiff’s status as capital of Wales. So why have a ‘competition’?

Without a building for the Assembly it was decided to lease Crickhowell House down Cardiff docks, named after Lord Crickhowell. The ‘Welsh’ Government is still leasing Crickhowell House, now renamed Tŷ Hywel. You might be interested in the figures.

From 1999 to 2012 the public purse splurged £40,654,093 on leasing, maintaining and improving the building. The current lease runs until 2032 at an annual cost of £2.3m plus VAT. When I submitted my FoI in 2013 the building was owned by Crick Properties, but was bought in March 2014 for £40.5m by a company registered in the British Virgin Islands.

The final bill for leasing and maintaining this building will be well over £100m, after which it will still belong to whoever owns it at the time. We could have had a new, purpose-built building for a tenth of that figure. But of course, that would not have suited Associated British Ports and those linked to the company.

The squalid saga of how the public purse was abused in order to transform Cardiff docks into Cardiff Bay for the benefit of Associated British Ports is explained in the Corruption Bay document I put together in 2000-2001.

It’s well over 18 years since Ron Davies announced that the Assembly would be located in Cardiff . . . somewhere. In that time Cardiff – which, incidentally, voted against devolution – has prospered greatly from hosting the Assembly, and gained from politicians and civil servants making decisions that talk of ‘Wales’ but benefit only Cardiff.

To the point where, today, it seems that all investment is focused on Cardiff while other urban areas are condemned to managed decline and our countryside and coasts serve as recreation and retirement areas for England. The north, certainly the north east, is, with the connivance of the ‘Welsh’ Government (acting on the recommendation of a Mrs Hain), being detached from Wales to become commuter territory for Merseyside and Greater Manchester. For some time now, dwellings around Wrecsam have been advertised by estate agents as being in ‘West Cheshire’!

The Mersey Dee Alliance is the plan for north west England to absorb north east Wales

This process of dismembering Wales is made easier by Cardiff’s distance from and indifference to the north east.

Few things illustrate the Cardiff-centricity of contemporary Wales – and more worryingly, how it has become accepted in official circles as the template for all development – than the Cardiff Capital Region project and its associated Metro system.

The City Region is nothing but a scheme for encouraging further investment in Cardiff but, by improving local transport links, it’s hoped that the Valleys and the M4 corridor from Bridgend to the border will feel part of this enterprise. In truth, it’s the formalisation of a city-commuter region arrangement. To dress it up as anything else is dishonest.

That this project has progressed so far with so few objections from those communities being reduced to dormitory status can be attributed to the malign influence of a Labour Party that may be losing its grip but still deals ruthlessly with dissent. Plus the fact that opposition parties seem to share the ‘Everything in Cardiff’ mindset.

To ensure that the focus remains on Cardiff major developments elsewhere in the region may be sabotaged, and this explains the recent attacks on the Circuit of Wales project at Ebbw Vale. These attacks came from the traditional mouthpiece of the Cardiff business community, the Western Mail, and BBC Wales which, as I remarked in Circuit of Wales Revisited“has as much claim to being our national broadcaster as the Mule has to being our national newspaper”.

Despite my criticisms, what I’ve dealt with thus far is understandable, even excusable, in that it’s the duty of the politicians and the business community of a city to promote the interests of that city.

Of course my absolution does not extend to Assembly Members from other areas who simply nod through every project to promote and enrich Cardiff. Nor does it extend to those who pose as our ‘national media’, or other institutions and bodies claiming to represent the whole country.

Cities, even capital cities, looking out for themselves is one thing, but we have now reached the stage in Wales where Cardiff serving its own interests, and being encouraged to do so by the media and the ‘Welsh’ Government, is working against the interests of the country as a whole.

Worse, we are now seeing the corruption that is almost inevitable when the public life of a country is concentrated in a relatively small city, and when this concentration sees those with the power of patronage and control of the public purse rubbing shoulders on a regular basis – and too regularly in social environments – with those wishing to enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of us. Two examples will help explain what I’m talking about.

First, a case that attracted much attention was the deal to sell off land on the outskirts of Cardiff to a very well-connected group of Cardiff businessmen at a knock-down, agricultural-use price, despite the fact that everybody knew the land had been earmarked for housing. I dealt with this in Pies, Planes & Property Development and Pies, Planes & Property Development 2. Let’s not beat about the bush, this was corruption, pure and simple.

Next, have you ever wondered why Wales – unlike Ireland and Scotland – does not have a national cricket team? The answer is that we are represented by England. No, honestly, and to be precise, by the England and Wales Cricket Board (though the ‘Wales’ bit is never used).

Swalec Stadium, home to England Test matches and the reason Wales has no national cricket team

In 2015 Labour First Minister Carwyn Jones said it was an honour to welcome the Test match between Australia and England to Cardiff, adding: “Attracting major events not only boosts our international profile, but has clear benefits for our economy”. 

Two points: First, a national team would boost our ‘international profile’ far more, because many people around the world now believe that Cardiff is in England; second, how much of the money generated by the Test match did other parts of Wales see?

Of course, at one time, we did have a national cricket team, but that was before Glamorgan County Cricket Club and others surrendered to England in order that Cardiff could enjoy the publicity, the prestige, and the revenue, from hosting England ‘home’ matches. Another example of the counter-devolution strategy at work and another step towards Englandandwales.

Another way Wales loses out to Cardiff is in the exodus of too many of the brightest and best from other parts of the country. ‘Ah, but the same thing happens in Ireland’ shout Cardiff’s defenders. Not really. The fastest growing cities there are Cork and Galway, and perhaps more importantly, Donegal and Kerry, Sligo and Roscommon are not being overrun by tens of thousands of retirees, problem families, good-lifers, hippies, paedophiles, white flighters and tourist trappers.

The economic imbalance in Wales that makes Cardiff so attractive to our young people deprives many rural communities of their future leaders, their opinion-formers, those who might challenge the invasion taking place. Coincidence, no doubt.

We have reached the stage now where that economic imbalance is so severe, and being exacerbated year on year, that those who direct things in Cardiff – including those who not so long ago would readily display their contempt for ‘Welshies’ – are quite open about their long-term strategy of positioning the city as a medium-sized provincial English city, in competition with Bristol, Sheffield, Newcastle and others. Slowly but inexorably Cardiff is turning its back on Wales.

For Cardiff has the advantage that, as capital of Wales, it can always argue that projects in the city are ‘national’ in importance, and being done for the benefit of 3.2 million people. Which makes it odd that Plaid Cymru politicians get exercised over Crossrail 2 and HS2 being described as ‘national’, yet seem oblivious to the same thing happening under their noses in Cardiff.

Though sometimes the brew gets really heady and ambition stretches beyond competing with Sheffield, proven by an article this week by Siôn Barry, Business Editor of the Wasting Mule, whose brother Mark is the brains behind the Metro system. Barry quotes some estate agent – a profession renowned for its scrupulous avoidance of exaggeration and misrepresentation – who believes that Cardiff can become a “global capital”.

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Think about that. We are asked to believe that a city of less than 400,000 people can compete with Tokyo and Paris, Buenos Aires and Beijing. It’s laughable; with the laughter ratcheted up to hysterical level by the fact that Cardiff’s just a provincial centre, and the full idiocy is realised by remembering that those pushing this bollocks, at the Wasting Mule and elsewhere, oppose Welsh independence, without which Cardiff is not, and never can be, a real capital.

This kind of stuff gets hyperbole a bad name; it borders on the delusional. Young Matt Phillips of Knight Frank clearly needs help, but rather than waste money on some expensive treatment I suggest that he be slapped around the head with a freshly-caught halibut until he recants. (It never fails.) As for those who repeat such nonsense, well, they want to believe it, but worse, they also want you to believe it.

Welcome to the never-never world of devolution. An estate agent tells a journalist that Cardiff is about to go head-to-head with Paris, this is repeated as gospel by our ‘national newspaper’, yet it takes place to the backdrop of Wales being colonised and by other means having its identity eroded as the prelude to complete assimilation into England.

While it yet lasts, this fantasy I’ve described bears some resemblance to a corrupt Third World country where all the goodies are concentrated in the capital and the provinces are allowed to rot; what’s missing is the dictator and his extended family and friends ripping off the state finances, but standing in we have ‘Papa’ Jones and his Labour Party, plus Labour’s cronies in the Third Sector and gangs of well-connected businessmen.

As I said at the start; when I voted Yes in 1997 it was only because I saw devolution as the first step on the road to independence. Devolution has been a complete failure in that regard, and it has even failed as a devolved system – apart from the growth of Cardiff. And this week we were told that even the devolution some thought we had is worthless because Westminster can overrule the ‘Welsh’ Government any time it chooses.

To remedy the situation in which we find ourselves Wales needs to be ‘re-balanced’. I believe that the quickest and surest way of achieving that necessary objective is by moving the Assembly out of Cardiff. Which is why I have launched a petition urging that the Assembly be moved to Aberystwyth. Click here to sign that petition.

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UPDATE 20.12.2016: Well, bless my soul – Plaid Cymru agrees with me!

No Way to Run a City, a County, or a Country

CARDIFF: The council of our capital city is advertising for an ‘adviser’ to the council leader . . . though not in Wales, for the advertisement appeared in the Sunday Times. Which I assume means that knowledge of Cardiff, or Wales, is not required. As this article makes clear, the news has provoked a debate to which a number of people have made interesting contributions.

Local Government consultant Jeff Jones wants to see full-blown political appointees as in the USA. Which is where we’ve been heading since New Labour came to power in 1997 and took on what were clearly political appointees as ‘special advisers’ to the Prime Minister and other senior cabinet members. Though this was never a satisfactory arrangement, partly due to these appointees’ ambivalent relationship with the civil service and, towards the end of Blair’s tenure of No 10, advisers for Blair and Brown being engaged in almost open warfare. Plaid Cymru’s Neil McAvoy also sees this danger and makes the same point while generally endorsing Jeff Jones’ argument.

One problem here is the ambiguity surrounding the exact status of this ‘Head of Cabinet Office’ post. Given that Cardiff is controlled by Labour we can safely assume that whoever is appointed will be a Labour Party member or supporter. Yet we shall be asked to believe that the post is politically neutral. Another worry for me is that the post was advertised as offering an opportunity to ‘shape policy’. Now, with Caerffili and Carmarthenshire fresh in our minds, do we really want more unelected people exercising control over our local authorities?

The answer to this and many other problems in local government is to give us eight new authorities with no more than thirty full-time councillors per authority. Attract a better quality of councillor prepared to make the council a job and a mission rather than using it as an excuse to earn beer money from handing out contracts and planning consents to friends, family, and those belonging to the same organisation.

CARMARTHENSHIRE: Today’s Wasting Mule carried an incredible letter from Siân Caiach, former Plaid Cymru luminary, more recently Plaid’s nemesis in Llanelli. (Standing as an independent in 2011 she gained 2,004 votes, while Plaid Cymru lost to Labour by Sian Caiachjust 80.) That aside, what she says in her letter is so damning of both Carmarthenshire County Council, and the Welsh Government, that answers must be forthcoming to explain the lie upon lie that almost destroyed one of the area’s traditional industries. No, more than that, part of its culture. And the culture of a wider area. How many of us used to enjoy a packet of cockles on a Saturday night as the sellers made their way from pub to pub, jostling with the ladies trying to make us feel better about ourselves (and to banish or sublimate our carnal thoughts of them) by buying War Cry

It is difficult to imagine the pond life running Carmarthenshire – whether that be the Nazi-Soviet pact nominally in charge, or he who breaks butterflies on wheels – being so utterly and bastardly irresponsible as to do what is alleged by Siân Caiach, just so they could build yet more houses in the county, for yet more English colonists. But if that is the case, then we can almost guarantee that the English Planning Inspectorate is lurking somewhere in the shadows.

CYMRU: In my post of February 18th I told you I had submitted two Freedom of Information requests. One asking how many publicly-funded bodies we have in Wales ‘helping people back into employment’, and the other asking how much we are paying for Tŷ Hywel, formerly Crickhowell House, so central to the scam that was the regeneration of Cardiff docks. The reply to the first of those FoIs was dealt with here a few days ago. I now have some answers to the second FoI, and boy! do they make interesting reading!

First, let’s recap. Crickhowell House is an office block in Cardiff Bay, built in the late 1980s by Associated British Ports. (Head honcho, Lord Crickhowell, formerly Nicholas Edwards MP for Pembrokeshire and Secretary of State for Wales from 1979 to 1987.) The building cost some £11m to build and no one wanted to buy or lease it until 1993, when the Tory-controlled Welsh Office under David Hunt helped out his old friend, Lord Crickhowell, by taking out a 20-year lease on the building for the use of the Welsh Combined Health Services Authority. Crickhowell House was far too big and the WCHSA never used much more than a third of it. You will probably remember that from 1999 to 2006 Crickhowell House was used as the Assembly building. The lease was said to be worth just over £2m a year plus maintenance and other costs. So this Tory old pals act takes us from 1993 to 2013.

Next, when the deal was done with Associated British Ports to lease for 150 years, and for just £1, the land on which the Senedd today stands, it was rumoured that Ron Davies secretly agreed to extend the lease on Crickhowell House for a further 5 years. So that would have been another £10m+. It was even being suggested there was an option to extend the lease further. So in order to get at the facts I submitted my FoI. The answers to which may be read here.

The facts are that Tŷ Hywel is leased until 2032 at an annual cost of £2.3m + VAT. Yet the total figure given, in response to my question, “What will be the total expenditure, since 1993, of leasing,improving and maintaining Tŷ Hywel?” the answer given is £40,654,093 (from 1999), which can’t be right, can it? By my calculations, at £2.3m a year the lease from 1999 to 2032 comes to £75.9m. Add in the six years from 1993 to 1999 and it’s closer to £90m! And that’s without VAT, maintenance and all the other costs! I’d like you to give some thought to these figures, see if they, literally, add up.

CommissionThe reply contained the names of two bodies that I just had to check, because they were new to me. The first was the Assembly Commission, described as “the corporate body of the National Assembly for Wales”. And Crick Properties, who now own Tŷ Hywel. The Assembly Commission is made up of the Presiding Officer and four other AMs with various portfolios. Today’s Commission members are shown in the panel (click to enlarge) though it would have been Dafydd Elis Thomas who led the Commission when it decided to extend the lease on Tŷ Hywel in 2007. Crick Properties turned up little on Google, apart from this intriguing snippet on Slugger O’Toole. But given the name, it must be reasonable to assume a connection with Lord Crickhowell.

Another thought struck me as I digested the astronomic figures for Tŷ Hywel. We like to pride ourselves in Wales on the fact that we rejected Private Finance Initiatives. But remember this; in addition to £2.3m + VAT per annum lease, the Assembly Commission is also responsible for upkeep and renovation of the building. So if Tŷ Hywel, a building that will end up costing us well over £100m – yet is said to have sold in 2009 for £31m – is not a PFI, then what is? And bear in mind that the sale price in 2009 was greatly inflated by the fact that the Assembly Commission had agreed – in 2007 – a lease extension to 2032. Which means that had they refused to extend the lease, then the Assembly Commission might have been able to buy the building for considerably less than £31m.

So there you are, mes enfants; three stories which, in their own way, paint a depressing picture of public life in Wales today. Lies being told, public money being squandered, the interests of the people ignored and democracy treated with contempt. Why do we bother playing this game we can’t win? And if we could win it, would the victory be worth it?