Odds & Sods 22.07.2020

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

Well, you must agree that the title makes a change from Miscellany. And unless I have a major item to focus on this might be the format from now on. Another big one, so take your time.

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MOCHRAS/SHELL ISLAND

When I was much younger I spent a summer working in the Victoria Hotel in Llanbedr, between Bermo and Harlech. Living out back in what was imaginatively called a ‘chalet’.

Happy days!

The Vic was busy in summer, and one reason for that was its close proximity to a very large campsite, to which many of our English neighbours would repair to besport themselves. This was known to them as Shell Island, but to many of the locals it was Mochras.

In common with other such establishments, Shell Island has been closed for the past few months, but unlike similar establishments it does not plan to open at all this year. In fact, the statement put out by the Workman family, which owns the site, says that it “will not be opening until at least 2021″.

Which could be interpreted as meaning that Shell Island will never open again.

Making me wonder if there’s any connection between this possibility and the planned expansion of nearby Llanbedr airfield. For an announcement in May stated that military training was coming to the airfield, heralding more MoD involvement.

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If this increased militarisation means drones, as seems likely, then it would make sense to control the land between the airfield and the sea. Then, if a drone goes haywire, it’ll kill a few rabbits, or fish, rather than wipe out three generations of the Smith family from West Bromwich.

Locals would be wise to be concerned, because further down the coast, at Aberporth, a number of military drone flights have gone awry. One last year landed not far from a school.

Maybe this is expecting too much of Plaid Cymru, but I would like to think that Cyngor Gwynedd is keeping up with developments, asking questions of the MoD and the airfield’s owners.

And if the council is doing that, then I expect it to keep the public informed, rather than bending to the ‘security’ restrictions that will be imposed to stop us knowing what’s happening in our country.

WEEP FOR WALES 18A

Regular readers will know that this series started over two years ago after I’d been told about Paul and Rowena Williams closing their hotels in Powys, laying off staff, and leaving tradesmen and suppliers unpaid.

Though according to them they’d sold the empire they built up through mortgage fraud to a convicted fraudster named Keith Harvey Partdridge. (Yes, that is how it’s spelled.)

Even before it all collapsed at Knighton and Presteigne the Williams pair had moved up to Gwynedd, and Plas Glynllifon. They had ambitious plans for the old pile that would cost over £20m. Not only that, but they also bought the Seiont Manor Hotel, and a little place outside Dolgellau called Fronoleu.

Plas Glynllifon. Click to enlarge

They were even eyeing up Plas Brereton and Plas Tŷ Coch. Or maybe they were just stringing people along, because they are a couple of bullshitters.

Towards the end of 2018 it became obvious the Williams’ finances didn’t match up to their stated ambitions. Along came Myles Andrew Cunliffe, said by Paul Williams to be a “finance guy”, which I suppose is one way of describing what Cunliffe does.

As you can read in the link I’ve just given, in December 2018 Cunliffe was promising that Plas Glynllifon would open as a hotel within months. It never did open. And eventually, Seiont Manor also closed, with more staff losing their jobs, and their unpaid wages. More tradesmen and suppliers chasing what they were owed.

Since I started writing about this crew a number of people have got in touch to tell me how they’ve been ripped off. People able to give me details only genuine victims (or the perpetrators) would know, but for a variety of reasons some have been reluctant to let me use this material. Which I can understand.

Now another victim has been in touch, and he’s given me clearance to tell his story, as long as I withhold his name. Again, I suggest there are far too many details for this to have been fabricated.

Here’s a tidied up and redacted pdf version of the e-mails I received. As you read it you’ll understand how Cunliffe, and his associate, Jon Disley, operate. And it’s not just those two.

You’ll also realise that after allegedly scamming people in Marbella, including Myles Cunliffe’s own brother – testified in the comment to this blog reproduced below – Disley may now be operating in Portugal.

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The Tom Ellis referred to more than once is Jon Disley’s son-in-law. Dennis Rogers will be introduced in a minute.

Jon Disley made the London dailies last week, snapped out shopping in Chelsea with his girlfriend, Claire Sweeney, who appears in Brookside. Here’s the report from the Sun, and here’s the Daily Mail‘s account.

Image: BackGrid. Click to enlarge

The Sun describes Jon Disley as a “career conman”, and the Daily Mail says he’s a “convicted fraudster”. Yet here he is with his girlfriend shopping in Chelsea, with not a care in the world.

It’s possible there’s a connection between some of those I’m writing about and the £8m Arron Banks can’t account for, the money that may have swung the Brexit referendum in 2016.

I suggest that because Denis Rogers, an associate of Disley and Cunliffe, sat as a nominee director on Banks’ company Rock Holdings, which was identified by the Electoral Commission as the channel for that £8m. John Sweeney of the BBC’s Newsnight investigated the lead but ran into a dead-end on the Isle of Man.

It’s reasonable to assume that whoever nominated Rogers – briefly the Brexit Party candidate for Warrington South – is the source or the conduit for that £8m.

So, we see that Rock Holdings is/was based on the Isle of Man. Rogers was listed as the director of a number of companies giving an address on Douglas’ South Quay, behind which we find the old gas board office – Murdoch Chambers – used as an address by Rock Holdings.

The former Trafalgar pub was used as an address by a number of Dennis Rogers’ companies. The building behind it, the old gas board offices, renamed ‘Murdoch Chambers’, was the address used by Arron Banks’ company Rock Holdings, central to the missing Brexit funding. Rogers was a nominee director of Rock Holdings. Click to enlarge.

This Isle of Man/Brexit connection is explored in Weep for Wales 13.

And, finally, someone sent me a truly gruesome image, and yet so fitting. It’s Myles Cunliffe with Dawn Ward, who I’m told stars in a programme called The Real Housewives of Cheshire. (As opposed to ‘The Phoney Housewives of Cheshire’?) He’s introduced as “an old friend”, but no doubt Cunliffe paid for this celebrity endorsement.

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Put the two images together and they could be labelled, ‘Cheshire Set meets Costa del Crime’. But don’t laugh too much. These are the people buying up northern Wales, from Abba Sock to Ross Niger, and those who can’t stretch to that will be found in new commuter villages along the A55 and around Wrecsam (aka ‘West Cheshire’). Here’s the latest of these developments.

Incidentally Cunliffe’s new venture being plugged here is Buy to Lease. All you need to know is in this review. Though the very fact that Myles Cunliffe is involved should tell you enough.

But if you feel compelled to throw money away then contact editor@jacothenorth.net giving your contact details, and I will personally arrange for one of my highly-trained magic bean salesmen to call on you.

But if the compulsion must be satisfied immediately, then scroll down to the bottom of this piece and send money through PayPal. You know you’ll feel better for it!

UPDATE 06.08.2020: A couple of days ago I received a letter from a solicitor acting on behalf Neil Cunliffe. Here’s the letter and my reply.

UPDATE 07.08.2020: Writing that previous update reminded me that I also had a letter from Jon Disley’s solicitor. Here it is with my response.

LLANGEFNI SHIRE HALL

I’m sure you’ll remember another high-flying business tycoon who turned up in Wales to impress media and local politicos alike. I’m referring now to Tristan Scott Haynes. Last year he bought the old Shire Hall in Llangefni, on Ynys Môn.

I wrote about it here with Not another one! followed up with the Llangefni Shire Hall section of Wales, colonialism and corruption.

According to the Daily Post‘s online offspring, NorthWalesLive, the old building was going to be, “a business centre and conference venue  . . . a pod hotel, an art gallery . . . and attract companies of all sizes to the 45-room landmark.”

Wow! What could possibly go wrong?

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Well, for a start, the reality of Haynes’ business empire didn’t quite live up to the billing: ” . . . the managing director of Chief Properties – who also runs a successful haulage firm”, we were told. Mmm.

Chief Properties Limited was set up in August 2018 to buy a building. Any building, anywhere. It could have been the clubhouse of Inverurie Curling Club, but when he went online Haynes just happened to see the Shire Hall.

The latest accounts (or rather a 2-page statement from Haynes) – up to 31 August 2019 – value the Shire Hall at £201,942 and . . . that’s it, that is Chief Properties’ total portfolio. When everything is taken into account the Chief Properties accounts show a net worth of £12,460.

The money to make the purchase came from Together Commercial Finance, of Cheshire, a lender to which the former proprietors of Plas Glynllifon turned when real banks put up flashing neon signs saying ‘Sod off Paul and Rowena Williams’. My calculator blew a fuse when I tried to work out how much the Gruesome Twosome owe Together.

The “successful haulage firm” is Falcon Transportation Ltd, which is actually in the black. But Eddie Stobart needn’t lose any sleep.

But, anyway, why am I going over old ground? Because, my friends, Chief Properties has put the Shire Hall up for sale. Which is a pity, because I was looking forward to staying in the pod hotel, visiting the art gallery, and looking around the conference venue and the business centre.

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I’m sure someone else will buy it. And even if it’s Old Nick himself, he’ll still get a great write-up in the local media. I can see it now: ‘Infernal Regions entrepreneur to open soul-bartering emporium in downtown Llangefni’.

I wonder if Beelzebub would get a ‘Welsh Government’ grant? Should be a doddle – he must have plenty of satisfied customers down Corruption Bay.

ABERGWAUN

A nice little town, Abergwaun (otherwise known as Fishguard); and of course home to the legendary newshound, Hugh Pugh.

Despite Hugh’s best efforts, not a lot happens in Abergwaun, or that was the case until recently. For the town has seen two arson attacks on boats, and a mugging.

There was also a suspicious fire near the Fishguard Bay Hotel. And if that rings a bell then it’s because it formed part of Gavin Lee Woodhouse’s property empire. He’s the guy I wrote about recently when we took another look at the Afan Valley Adventure Resort. (Scroll down.)

Abergwaun, arson attack. Click to enlarge

Just about everybody in the town links the incidents with the arrival of a number of homeless males following the permanent closure of the Riverside hostel in Pembroke.

These are now housed at Cartref, a hotel in the centre of Abergwaun which this photograph, taken on Monday, suggests is showing signs of wear.

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Others from the Pembroke hostel were housed a few miles away in the Silverdale Lodge motel at Johnston, where anti-social behaviour was reported by locals.

All this is annoying enough for locals, but now there’s another concern. Wales & West Housing is a major social landlord in the area, and on its website, locals read:

“Wales & West Housing will restart our lettings from 6th July where the property is vacant . . . We will start with . . . vacancies which are needed urgently by our Local Authority partners to assist with their need to focus on alleviating homelessness and facilitate move on for people living in temporary accommodation.”

Clearly, those now housed at Cartref and Silverdale are the responsibility of the council, and they are now in temporary accommodation. So they will be given priority for Wales & West tenancies in Abergwaun – ahead of locals who might have been waiting for years.

People with all manner of behavioural issues, none of whom are from Pembrokeshire, few of whom are from Wales, will get priority over locals. And Wales & West will be paid more to house these drug addicts and petty criminals than they could claim in rent from law-abiding, hard-working Welsh people.

The recent crime wave could become a permanent feature of life in Abergwaun.

The social housing system is no longer fit for purpose.

UPDATE 01.08.2020: This might explain the broken window.

MARK JAMES IN CORRUPTION BAY

Anyone who follows Welsh news and current affairs will know the name Mark James. But for those less au fait with these subjects . . . Mark James was the Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire county council from 2002 until last summer.

James had been hired by, and was – theoretically, at least – answerable to the elected representatives of the people. But by cajoling, and when that failed, by threats and intimidation, he somehow came to control each successive administration, of all political colours, Labour, Independent and Plaid Cymru.

To cement his authority, he personally recruited subordinates who were answerable to him, and to him alone.

All of which meant that for a decade and a half Carmarthenshire was run as Mark James’s private fiefdom. He behaved like a despot, wielding untrammelled power, and just like a despot he was prone to outbursts of petty vindictiveness. One example was the persecution of a blogger who had annoyed him, threatening her and her family with homelessness.

This cause célèbre was funded with council money even though it was a private action. And hardly anyone – certainly not the councillors! – dared to question him.  Though it did not go unnoticed elsewhere; Private Eye awarded James its Shit of the Year award for 2016.

Richly deserved.

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Because all in all, Mark James is a very nasty piece of work. Not just in his behaviour towards others but also in his attitude to things Welsh, where he is – and this is being generous – unenthusiastic. Some would go further.

Unless of course it’s a superficial form of ‘Welshness’, like rugby. Which explains his generosity – again, with council money – to the local Scarlets rugby set up; and also towards David Pickering, failed businessman, but former captain of the national rugby team and also former chairman of the Welsh Rugby Union.

James standing down last summer may have been linked with shit hitting the fan from his ill-starred partnership with Swansea University, and assorted businessmen, and the plan to build a Wellness and Life Science Village in a Llanelli bog.

The £200m+ Wellness and Life Science Village was to be James’s lasting monument, a pet project he had driven through against the better judgement of many. Yet another indication of his despotic behaviour, this time tinged with Ozymandias Syndrome.

These unfortunate liaisons and ill-judged business ventures eventually resulted in a house call from the police.

But running Carmarthenshire council and building pyramids was never enough to keep Mark James occupied (and anyway, that could be left to underlings) so it was no surprise when I learnt that he was involved in the Corruption Bay property market. I wrote about this in mid-2017 with Baywatch, and Baywatch 2.

In a nutshell, James and a few associates had taken over the management of blocks of flats and were seeking to maximise profits by running as many as possible as holiday apartments, attracting Airbnb stag parties, groups of rugby fans, and others guaranteed to make life hell for the blocks’ permanent residents.

The properties run by James and his cronies are in a gated enclave called Century Wharf, between Dumballs Road and the river. Run via: Century Wharf (One) RTM Company Limited, Century Wharf (Two) RTM Company Limited and Century Wharf (Three) RTM Company Limited. (RTM means ‘Right to Manage’.)

Century Wharf. Click to enlarge

It’s time now for an update.

Someone sent me a wee clip from a Century Wharf Facebook page showing an invoice from a company called European Telecom Solutions (ETS). This company is run by Robert Nigel Lovering, who is a partner with David Pickering in the former MoD site at Llangennech, Llanelli.

An odd business, that place in Llangennech. The MoD was going to put the site up for auction then, at the last minute, it was sold to the council, who immediately sold it to an unregistered company called R & A Properties, which was run by Pickering and Lovering, two men enjoying a close association with the council’s CEO.

It’s a complicated business but Cneifiwr explains it in Warthogs and a Man with a Van. I’ve also tried to keep up. Type ‘Llangennech’ or ‘Dawnus’ in the search box at the top of the sidebar.

But back to Century Wharf. Here’s the invoice from ETS.

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Nothing really untoward, maybe the toner is a bit expensive. But what I found really odd is that the company ETS doesn’t seem to be trading. Certainly not according to the latest accounts, for the year ending November 2019. (The invoice is from June last year.) And the company’s website doesn’t seem to have been updated for two years.

Yet Mark James can call this ghost company out from Llanelli for a minor job in Cardiff? More than that, the FB page suggests that ETS also provides telephone services to Century Wharf. How can a non-trading company be doing this?

Is work being done, and business transacted, that is not appearing in the accounts submitted to Companies House? Yet with a VAT number quoted on the invoice one must assume that VAT is being paid.

Though when I checked the VAT number given on the invoice I saw that it differs from the number given for ETS on the VAT Search website. And yet the company number on the invoice, 11064246, is the same as that given by Companies House.

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I’m sure there’s a simple explanation.

Another source in Century Wharf writes: “Once elected as a RTM director he (James) held 2 AGMs then decided that there would be no more . . . and is a de facto dictator with . . . . . . . . acting as his paid for spy.”

“De facto dictator”. In a rapidly changing world it’s almost reassuring to know that some things remain constant. For Mark James was never interested in the views of others. Even those he was supposedly serving.

No, make that – especially the views of those he was supposedly serving.

ONE PLANET DEVELOPMENTS

Yes, I know, I promised more on OPDs, but so much information is coming in that it’s difficult to make sense of it all. I’ll try to put it all together and get out a OPD special in the near future.

To whet your appetite, I’m told that the Ecological Land Co-operative of Brighton, which wants to set up on Gower, already has a presence in Pembrokeshire. Mention is made of an ancient hedge being ripped up, and a log cabin brought in from Bristol.

More next week . . .

♦ end ♦

 




Pot Pourri 12.12.2018

As you can see, this is another big one. But it’s made up of five separate reports: Hendy wind farm, recent events in Swansea and Llanelli which may – or may not – be linked, the Bodnant Welsh Food Centre, the redevelopment of the Tower opencast site, and finally, the leadership election in a non-existent political party.

So you can either make yourself a panad, settle down and go through the lot in one go. Alternatively, you can take them one at a time. The choice is yours.

Unless something big crops up this might be my last posting until 2019. If that’s how it turns out, then . . .

HENDY WIND FARM: WHO GAVE THE WORD? WHEN? WHY?

A few weeks ago, in Corruption in the Wind, I looked at three wind farms: Bryn Blaen, near Llangurig; Rhoscrowther, near Milford Haven; and Hendy, near Crossgates. All being promoted by the same property company. 

Hendy wind farm merits another visit.

You’ll recall that Hendy was refused planning permission by Powys County Council and this decision was upheld by a planning inspector in May this year. But then, in late October, Lesley Griffiths, Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs Secretary for the management team in Cardiff docks, said that she would over-rule the planning inspector’s decision and allow Hendy to proceed.

The landscape to be desecrated by Hendy wind farm, click to enlarge

In the earlier piece I argued that what triggered the change of heart over Hendy was the High Court decision in September to finally put a stop to the Rhoscrowther project on the Milford Haven Waterway.

Prior to that High Court decision the developers had Bryn Blaen in the bag, were hopeful of getting Rhoscrowther, and were probably resigned to writing off Hendy, taking the view that two out of three ain’t that bad. But once Rhoscrowther was lost they were down to one out of three – they had to have Hendy.

Here’s the sequence of events leading to where we are at present.

The Construction Environmental Management Plan we encountered in the bullet points above should have been produced before work started, but in the case of Hendy it’s dated November 19, six weeks after on-site work started. 

The more I think about it, the more I believe there’s only one way to explain the panicky happenings at Hendy.

The decision to allow the Hendy wind farm was taken in London after approaches by the developers following the Rhoscrowther decision. (For despite the Planning Inspectorate having a desk in Cardiff it answers to the Department for Communities and Local Government in London.)

A political decision taken in London was passed to the Planning Inspectorate and only belatedly relayed to Lesley Griffiths when someone remembered about devolution. (Further proof that what masquerades as the ‘Welsh Government’ is just London’s management team in Wales.)

Worth mentioning may be that the landowner at Hendy is Sir Robert John Green-Price 5th Bt. It’s reasonable to assume that Sandhurst-educated Sir Robert has influential friends. It’s equally reasonable to assume that the developers, Marcus Owen Shepherd, Matthew Simon Weiner and Richard Upton, also ‘know people’.

Last week the developers were pile-driving at the source of the Edw, a Special Area of Conservation. All being done in the name of ‘conservation’ and ‘the environment’. The Edw runs south to join the Wye at Aberedw.

Pile-driving in an SAC at the source of the Edw, click to enlarge

Where, last Sunday, a day after the Cilmeri commemoration, people remembered a hero who may have been betrayed. How fitting that they should gather at Aberedw, by a river being polluted by modern invaders assisted by today’s traitors.

TIDAL LAGOON PUTTING WIND UP WIND FARMERS?

One of the more interesting schemes promoted in Wales in recent years was the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. It eventually failed because the UK government refused to support it.

Yet it had a great deal of backing from people who pointed out that the electricity generated by the Swansea lagoon, a relatively small prototype, was bound to be expensive, but the possibilities of tidal power are immense and larger lagoons would be cheaper all round. For one thing tides, unlike wind, are entirely predictable and therefore reliable.

Not far away from the proposed tidal lagoon we saw one of the more extravagant schemes mooted in recent years in the £225m Wellness Village in Llanelli’s Delta swamp, being promoted chiefly by Carmarthenshire chief executive Mark James and Swansea academic Marc Clement, the latter a Turk by birth.

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This project was to be part-funded from the £1.3bn Swansea Bay city deal.

Clement and a few other senior academics in Swansea, including the vice-chancellor, were recently suspended and it was generally agreed that this was somehow connected with the Wellness Village, certainly Clement was connected. Though no Llanelli connection could be established for vice-chancellor Richard B Davies or the other two, unnamed, persons who were suspended.

It was no surprise then that following the Swansea suspensions the Wellness Village seemed to get poorly. Within a very short time the infection spread and now a review has been ordered of the whole city region deal.

But why should the London government suddenly be so concerned about doings in south west Wales?

I’ve been giving this matter some thought, and here’s what I think.

Just a few miles from Swansea Bay lies Mynydd y Gwair, on the northern outskirts of the city. This was an area of wild and unspoilt upland . . . until fat grants were introduced for wind turbines.

Then the owner of Mynydd y Gwair, the Beaufort Estate (Prop. Duke of Beaufort), decided it could make millions by covering this beautiful area with ugly, useless, bird-killing wind turbines. This is the same Beaufort Estate that ten years ago charged the city council £280,000 to put a footbridge over the Tawe near the Liberty Stadium.

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Beaufort and his ilk are descended from medieval robber barons, and they still know how to extract money from the rest of us.

It’s the same across this island. In Scotland the descendants of the Parcel of Rogues and assorted foreign landowners are minting it with wind turbines; while in England it’s a similar story, with former PM David Cameron’s father-in-law among those raking it in.

And linked with them are the property men and experts who will do all the dirty work, and reap their own rewards, those we see behind the Hendy wind farm.

And so there must be a possibility that the UK government is ‘reviewing’ the Swansea Bay city deal because Swansea council is threatening to resurrect the tidal lagoon, for that might be disastrous for the wind farmers who are so close to the Tory party, and in many instances, fund it.

‘But, Jac, what about the suspensions at Swansea University and the Wellness Village?’

The Wellness Village was up Shit Creek anyway, no private money was going to appear. It has simply been written off early before any more public money is wasted. As for the suspensions, the Wellness Village might have been a useful distraction.

Put the Wellness Village to one side and remember that the university is also heavily involved with Tidal Lagoon Mk II. It was the university that commissioned the recent report – on behalf of the Swansea Bay City Region – into reviving the barrage project.

Then look at the plan. Swansea University’s new Bay Campus is at the eastern landfall of the proposed lagoon. Students would have fought to get into a university with its own private beach which also overlooked a ground-breaking tidal lagoon offering many recreational facilities.

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But as I say, a revived Swansea tidal lagoon might be bad news for those behind Hendy wind farm, and for Lord Beaufort, also for the repackaged Parcel of Rogues, and of course for Sam Cam’s daddy.

We may need to look no further to explain the UK government’s decision to ‘review’ the Swansea Bay city deal.

BODNANT WELSH FOOD CENTRE

Another recent business failure was the collapse of the Bodnant Welsh Food Centre in Dyffryn Conwy. Though it now looks as though it has been saved by local teacake tycoon Richard Reynolds (who I’m sure is no relation to Rikki Reynolds of Weep for Wales notoriety).

In all the excitement too many have neglected to ask the basic questions about Bodnant, such as: Who’s calling the shots? Why was a grant of £6.5m made? Should that money have been allocated? Was the money used well? Why did Bodnant Food Centre collapse? What happens now?

The first thing to explain – and this is fundamental to understanding the bigger picture – is that the Bodnant Welsh Food Centre, opened in 2012 by Charles Windsor, is part of the Bodnant Estate, run by The Hon Michael Duncan McLaren QC, educated at Eton and Cambridge.

Michael McLaren’s father was the third Baron Aberconway, but this son has not succeeded to the title because he’s trumped by an older half-brother, Henry Charles McLaren, from his father’s first marriage (though there may be a dispute over entitlement).

Bodnant Estate, click to enlarge

You won’t find Bodnant Welsh Food Centre on the Companies House website because it trades as Furnace Farm Ltd, and this company was Incorporated with Companies House 20 October 2005. Furnace Farm is where we find the venture that received the £6.5m grant, but this is little more than a fancy shop selling overpriced food. 

For as a source put it to me: Dry home cured bacon for sale at £23/kg, yet both butchers at Llanrwst, some four miles away, were selling at £7.55/kg! Both butchers from known local sources!!”

Maybe at this point I should explain that despite not having succeeded to the title, Michael McLaren owns the whole shooting match, for in this document (page 5), the financial statement for year ending 31.01.2013, we read, “The company (Furnace Farm Ltd) entered into transactions with the Bodnant Estate which is owned by The Hon Michael McLaren”.

In addition to the Bodnant Estate and the Welsh Food Centre we have of course the well-known Bodnant Garden, owned by the National Trust but run by Michael McLaren as if he owns it. Then there’s Bodnant Garden Nursery Ltd, a private company with directors Michael McLaren, his wife Caroline, his mother, Lady Aberconwy, and Brian Eric Alcock.

The McLarens have three children: Angus John Melville, Iona Ann Mariel and Hamish Charles Duncan. Nice to see our Welsh aristocracy keeping with those names that resonate through our history.

Alcock’s background is in furniture, in north west England, with a previous directorship in Malbry Furniture (Sales) Ltd (wound up in May 1992), then Burford House Furniture Ltd (dissolved in August 2013).

So how did Alcock, with his IKEA-rivalling career in furniture, get involved with Michael McLaren in Bodnant Garden Nursery Ltd?

The other company in the family group is Bodnant Joinery Ltd, directors Michael and Caroline McLaren.

Giving us a number of interlinked enterprises on the Bodnant Estate, and all of them controlled by The Hon Michael McLaren QC. Invariably, with such an arrangement, there will be trading and lending between the different entities.

For example, that document I linked to earlier tells us that by January 2013 Furnace Farm Ltd owed Michael McLaren £4,969,122. By 31.01.2014 it’s up to £5,997,109. On 31.01.2015 it’s down a little to £5,862,901. A year later there is no specific mention of McLaren but the amount owed to all creditors has increased from £6,804,203 in 2015 to £7,921,963. By 2017 the figure is up to £8,981,591.

In that final financial statement we are also told that Furnace Farm Ltd lost before tax £1,497,444, up from £1,088,324 the previous year.

Just as well the company had a grant of £6.5m.

The problem with assessing how the grant was spent is that Furnace Farm Ltd is much more than just The Welsh Food Centre. For it also includes accommodation, at the farmhouse. In fact, the Estate offers plenty of accommodation.

And let’s not forget the National Beekeeping Centre of Wales.

To complicate the picture further, when I went to the Welsh European Funding Office (WEFO) website I could find nothing for either Furnace Farm Ltd or Bodnant Welsh Food Centre.

So eventually I telephoned WEFO, and I was surprised to learn that the name of the project was in fact the Centre of Excellence for Welsh Food, a name I have not seen used.(But I am only too familiar with this practice for making it difficult to make enquiries.) Here are the details

So the question becomes – on what was the £6,444,107 spent? And after going back to WEFO I was told that, “Furnace Farm Ltd received funding of £237,032 from the Processing and Marketing Grant scheme . . . enabled the company to erect a new bespoke building complex . . . “.

So that’s £6,681,139, and counting?

The document I’ve linked to reads: “Centre of Excellence for Welsh Food The adaptation of abandoned farm buildings for economic use . . . 5 minutes from the A55 . . . private investor is providing 50% of the costs . . . project aims to create a retail outlet for local products, catering facilities for innovation with local food and a culinary school.”

Bodnant Welsh Food Centre, image courtesy of Business Leader, click to enlarge

The mention of “abandoned farm buildings” being adapted “for economic use” may refer to the farmhouse I mentioned earlier, now being used as a holiday let, rather than having anything to do with food excellence.

The latest update tells us that the new owner of the food centre, who plans to re-open on February 1st, and is said to be leasing the buildings from the McLarens, told the Daily Post: “It (Bodnant Welsh Food Centre) has been poorly run and we want to bring it back to what it was . . . with genuine authentic local produce in the shop . . . We can’t get away with charging a premium for something you can pick up in the supermarket.”

How very true. But then, if civil servants and/or politicians want to give someone millions of pounds to spend on property he already owns, then whether a retail outlet succeeds or not may be of little consequence in the bigger scheme of things.

The big question for me is: Why did anyone think it was a good use of EU funding to give millions of pounds to a wealthy aristocrat to open a London-prices shop in the Conwy Valley, especially as such funding was not supposed to be given for retail purposes?

And what guarantees do we have that such ‘misjudgements’ will never occur again?

THE LEFT BETRAYS WALES, AGAIN

This is another little tale that gets rather complicated, so let me set the scene with some background information. (Sorry, no music.)

You’ll recall that in December 1994, under threat of closure, Tower Colliery at Hirwaun was bought out by its miners under the leadership of Tyrone O’Sullivan. This made them mine-owners but paradoxically they also became deities in the socialist pantheon.

Tower Colliery was worked until it became uneconomic and closed in January 2008. What is less well known is that following the closure there was a period of opencast mining in the area.

This explains the formation of Tower Newco Ltd which soon changed its name to Tower Regeneration Ltd, a company dedicated to, “Open cast coal working” and “Development of building projects”. The second of those presumably following the ensuing clean-up operations.

Opencast mining began in May 2012, and if it hasn’t already ended, it is scheduled to end this month.

At its birth, Tower Newco Ltd had a single director named on the Certificate of Incorporation, a Kevin Dougan, of Durham. He was soon joined by others including O’Sullivan and also by Ian Anthony Charles Parkin, another businessman from north east England.

If we turn to the Tower Regeneration website, and scroll down to the bottom we find a link to a company called Hargreaves. It’s no surprise to learn that Hargreaves Services plc is also based in Durham, and among its directors we find Kevin James Stewart Dougan.

Almost immediately it was set up Tower Regeneration Ltd took out a loan with Forward Sound Ltd, of Durham, a company that had been set up less than a year before Tower Regeneration. In fact, it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that Forward Sound was set up specifically to capitalise on the Tower opencast project.

click to enlarge

Why the strong Durham connection? Well, on a practical level it was a coal-mining area, but on the emotional plane Durham to the bruvvers means the annual Miners’ Gala; it conjures up images of comradely solidarity, fluttering banners and fiery speeches.

On 1 December 2017 the ubiquitous Dougan ceased to be a director at Hargreaves Services, Tower Regeneration, and Forward Sound, but rejoined Tower Regeneration the very next day . . . though Companies House wasn’t notified until 27 April this year!

So from the outset, the Tower opencast and regeneration project has been funded and controlled by English interests. And now they’re lining up to get their hands on the money available for ‘restoration’ work. And we are talking many millions of pounds here.

And as might be expected, the English Labour Party in Wales is eager to play its allotted role in short-changing Wales, again.

It seems that the prettying up is to be done by The Land Restoration Trust, which is both a charity (No 1138337) and a company, though for some reason, on its website it’s called The Land Trust. Its headquarters are in Warrington and it specialises in “open space for community benefit”, much of that open space seems to be reclaimed industrial land, especially in former coalfields.

The Land Restoration Trust was set up by the Coalfields and Joint Ventures Division of the now defunct English Partnerships, “the national regeneration agency for England”, which was succeeded in December 2008 by the Homes and Communities Agency, since re-named Homes England.

Clearly the Land Restoration Trust is an England-only body. Though the website has pages for Scotland and Wales both read: “We currently do not manage any sites in (Scotland/Wales) although we are working hard to do so. If you would like discuss any potential opportunities please contact our Business Development team.”

Despite having no sites in Wales Alison Whitehead, described as ‘Development Manager’, enjoys visiting sites in Wales! But then, Alison, as her Linkedin profile tells us, was ‘Development Manager for North of England and North Wales’.

On 31 January 2018 a reception was held for the ‘Land Trust’ at the Senedd. It was hosted by Vikki Howells the Labour AM for Cynon Valley. Here’s the report from the Land Restoration Trust website.

And below you’ll see what Howells put out on Facebook the following day. Note that she mentions “ownership and management options”. In fact, it had already been decided behind the scenes, and years ago, making the Senedd reception no more than a PR exercise.

click to enlarge

Vikki Howells is involved for no better reason than she’s the local AM, having been elected in 2016 because she was the donkey with the red rosette. Does she really understand what’s gone on at Tower and who owns what?

Though if Ms Howells was so keen to inform the Cynon Valley public then she should have explained why her administration has abrogated its responsibilities and rolled back devolution. And also explained why the profits from developing this local site will be leaving Wales.

The Tower opencast operation didn’t last for much more than six years, it employed few, and when repayment of loans, leasing and hiring are taken into account, it wasn’t that profitable, certainly not for Tower. The big beneficiary appears to have been Hargreaves Surface Mining Ltd, renamed Hargreaves Land Ltd in June 2018.

(It should go without saying that Kevin James Stewart Dougan ceased to be a director of Hargreaves Land on 1 December 2017. What is the significance of that date?)

Hargreaves Surface Mining was set up in October 2011, just before opencast mining began at Tower. The timing is no coincidence. Hargreaves Surface Mining Ltd joined a host of new companies that had been created in north east England to make big bucks out of a mining operation in Wales.

An operation that put little money into the local economy but enriched strangers. It also served the purpose of being the necessary precursor to the second stage of the project that will inherit a large tract of land together with millions of pounds to landscape and redevelop it.

Who knows what will be done on the old Tower opencast site. Housing? A leisure resort such as we see not far away in the Afan Valley? One thing I predict with certainty – as with the opencast site, the profits will leave Wales.

Vikki Howells seems to envision the development at Tower linking with the Rhondda Tunnel . . . owned by Highways England!

click to enlarge

Or maybe it’ll be more wind turbines, for while they generate little or no electricity they certainly produce massive incomes for those who operate them, and the landowners involved. 

It’s difficult to believe that all this is happening after twenty years of devolution. But as I’ve argued many times, devolution is a sham, a façade; and behind that façade Wales is being ripped off and inexorably assimilated into England.

This assimilation along with the exploitation we see at Hendy and Mynydd y Gwair, Bodnant and Tower, is being facilitated by socialists, and the Labour Party, doing what they always do – selling Wales down the river.

GREEN PARTY OF ENGLANDANDWALES

Earlier this year members of the self-styled ‘Wales Green Party’ voted against becoming a Wales Green Party, choosing to remain part of the Green Party of Englandandwales and calling themselves The Green Party in Wales. Whereupon the party ‘leader’ defected to Plaid Cymru.

The confusion that resulted may be reflected in the fact that the party website seems to have been abandoned, with nothing posted since 10 July.

click to enlarge

Yet despite all the recent tribulations this Green Party of England in Wales is currently holding a leadership election. Yes, that’s a leadership contest to a non-existent party! Among those standing is Anthony Slaughter.

So who is he? Well, it should go without saying that he’s not Welsh. He lives in Penarth and seems to have a high regard for himself, adopting that tone of moral and intellectual superiority that so endears the Greens to me.

click to enlarge

And he spreads his talents wide, for when he’s not saving the planet he’s up in London demanding something called A People’s Vote, supporting the Stansted 15, and arguing for 20 mph speed limits. Sainthood can’t be far away.

But being a Green he’s probably a practising pagan. (Or am I thinking, vegan?)

Obviously there’s no such thing as the Wales Green Party, but then, there’s no such thing as the Welsh Labour Party either, it’s just a label, there’s nothing registered with the Electoral Commission. 

So maybe the Greens take their lead from the Labour Party, because they often seem close, almost as if the Greens are the idealistic younger relative indulged by the more staid Labour Party. 

And the closeness isn’t confined to the Greens, it seems to extend to the environmentalist movement as a whole, maybe it’s something to do with the self-absorbed regarding themselves as ‘progressive’

This perhaps explains why public money was recently spent on foot massage by the Future Generations Commissioner, that very close friend of the late Carl Sargeant.

click to enlarge

But it’s not just Labour that likes to cwtch up to those who think that the examples of Hendy and Mynydd y Gwair should be replicated on every pristine landscape in Wales. Who believe that carving up the countryside to lay thousands of tons of concrete is good environmental practice.

I mentioned that Slaughter, the would-be leader of the non-existent party, lives in Penarth. Where I’m told certain Plaidistas – the names Clubb and Wilton were mentioned – have been keen to do electoral deals with these Wales-rejecting colonialists.

But then, nothing surprises me any more, whether it’s the Greens, Plaid Cymru, or the Labour Party. They all pursue their own agendas, driven by narrow ideology and trapped within dogmas, rather than pragmatically promoting what’s best for the Welsh people.

That’s why they’ve failed us, and that’s why time is running out for all of them.

end ♦

 

Shorts & Updates for St. David’s Day

I’m off to Swansea this weekend, treating myself and the wife to a wee break. (Well, actually, the wife’s paying for the hotel.) I shall visit relatives and friends and go watch the Swans playing Norwich (son’s treating me!). So it will be at least a week until I put up my next post.

In the meantime, enjoy these tit-bits from hither and yon and have a good St. David’s Day. I might pop over to Wrecsam for the parade there, or maybe down to Aber’.

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DAWN BOWDEN AM?

Some of you will know by now that Dawn Bowden has been selected as the Labour Party candidate for Merthyr and Rhymni in May’s Assembly elections. If you haven’t heard – and even if you have – you’re probably wondering who the hell she is.

Around this time last year I also got to wondering, because I was told that she’d Dawn Bowden 3been promised a place in the Assembly, and although the seats suggested were Islwyn and Caerffili, my source was adamant that her elevation would be stitched up with a women-only shortlist. This prompted me to make enquires, resulting in a mention for Ms Bowden in my post ‘Welsh’ Labour And A Milking System Unknown To Farmers. And lo! it came to pass . . .

On the right you’ll see two screen-captured Twitter profiles for Ms Bowden, the ‘Before’ image taken at around 19:30 on Saturday, the ‘After’ around 00:30 on Sunday. (Thanks to ‘S’ for tipping me off.) There are significant changes in the second profile.

First, the reference to loving the unions is gone. Second, she has changed out of the Brizzle City shirt – a dead giveaway for her origins. Third, she is no longer a socialist. (Rhodri Morgan’s ‘clear red water’ seems to be flowing the other way at the moment.) Fourth, she has removed the reference to @Carrageryr, aka Martin Eaglestone, her current beau and another Labour insider. Gone with the reference to Eaglestone is the mention of being step-mother to his children by an earlier wife in Gwynedd. (Or at least I assumed they were his.)

The new profile was obviously put up in a hurry; such a hurry that she couldn’t tell us the full title of her job with UNISON or even get the spelling right for the party she represents. Maybe the champagne had gone to her head. No doubt everything has been put right by now.

Dawn Bowden is obviously a Labour loyalist first and foremost, knowing little about Wales, and even less about Merthyr. Just another Labourite on the make who’s come through the system of Unions and Third Sector, the kind of woman who’s always banging on about ‘the people’ but rarely gets to meet them because she lives in a Labour cocoon where she only mixes with her own kind.

Her success in Merthyr came about because the sitting AM, Huw Lewis, surprised quite a few people last month by suddenly announcing he was standing down. I won’t go into the reasons for this decision, suffice to say that they are of a delicate and intimate nature, the kind of messy personal relationships of which Ms Bowden and Martin Eaglestone have experience.

The other two women on the Merthyr and Rhymni shortlist were Carol Estebanez, who is also from that magic land, ‘Away’, and also helps prop up a ‘Welsh’ Labour Party having serious problems finding Welsh candidates of any quality; and then there was Anna McMorrin, who worked as an advisor to the dickheads down Cardiff docks and who is / was having an affair with Alun Davies AM former Natural Resources Minister.

The decision to impose an all-women shortlist in order to guarantee Ms Bowden her promised seat did not go down well with the bruvvers in Merthyr. Misogynists almost to a man who see La Bowden as the beginning of the end, for not only do the long shadows of council merger creep ever closer, but in the distance can be heard the heavy tread of the Westminster executioner coming to take an axe to the Merthyr constituency.

There’s nothing here to surprise anyone who knows how the Labour Party operates in Wales, but I still have three questions:

1/ Is ‘Welsh’ Labour now an official branch of UNISON?

2/ How much of the donkey vote will turn out for this latest parachutist?

3/ Will the Merthyr bruvvers – and, indeed, the disgruntled local sissters – canvass for Dawn Bowden?

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OXBRIDGE AND THE WELSH CRINGE

The aforementioned Huw Lewis is still the ‘Welsh’ Government’s Education Minister, and something (else) that causes him sleepless nights is the fact that so few of us aspire to Oxford and Cambridge universities. To listen to him and others who talk through their back heads the Welsh education system should be geared to getting as many as possible of our young people to Oxbridge.

So I was intrigued to see this item on the BBC website by Gareth Jones, a producer with BBC Wales, talking about the Oxbridge ‘success’ rate of his old school in Swansea, Olchfa Comprehensive. Though what I found most interesting, and disturbing, was that hardly any of those who went from Olchfa to Oxford and Cambridge returned to Wales.

Olchfa

And yet, this is how it must be in a colonial relationship. Wealth gravitates to the centre, where power and influence is also concentrated. The peripheries provide raw materials and manpower, holiday destinations and other benefits for the centre. This is how it was in Rome and every empire since.

Which means that Huw Lewis and all the other cringers, all those desperate to show ‘our English friends’ that we’re (almost) as good as them, want us to pay for our brightest and best to leave Wales and never return – and we are expected to be ever so grateful! This, remember, is ‘the Welsh Government’.

Here’s a better suggestion, Lewis . . . Why don’t you and your half-wit, forelock-tugging colleagues try to shake off your inferiority complex and start putting Welsh interests first. And to give you a clue where to start, subsidising a brain drain does not serve the Welsh national interest.

And if you aren’t serving the Welsh national interest then you really have no right to call yourselves ‘the Welsh Government’.

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TOURISM PAYING ITS WAY

Regular readers will know that I have firm views on tourism in Wales. Basically, I believe that it is a colonialist activity from which few Welsh people benefit, and that it is also destroying Welsh identity. In fact, from a patriotic perspective, I see nothing to be said in favour of the tourism Wales suffers today.

This unregulated and destructive ‘industry’ is doing irreparable harm to our homeland. Just look at the photograph below showing hordes of tourists swarming up to the summit of Snowdon, having been brought up almost all the way by the vile little train. Shouldn’t we be treating our beauty spots and our iconic mountains with more respect? Perhaps we would, but of course we Welsh have no control over the tourism ravaging our country.

Snowdon tourists

In Italy they do things better. With tourism taxes in various locations that suffer from too many gawpers and clickers. The latest moves are to limit the numbers of visitors to the Cinque Terre area. And as the article I’ve linked to tells us, big cruise liners are now banned from the Venice lagoon.

Elsewhere, in Italy and other countries, tourists are expected to put money into the public purse, not just the pockets of those taking the tourists’ money, who may be foreign companies or individuals from outside the country. The article I used tells us that such economic pragmatism is not limited to Italy, for “Bhutan doesn’t limit its number of tourists, but it does force them – through package tours – to spend $250 a day in high season ($200 in low), which apparently funds education, healthcare and so on.”

Here in Wales, when the subject of a tourist tax was mentioned last year, a spokesman for the industry was quite receptive to the idea – “providing the cash raised was ploughed back into the sector”. Er, no.

Wales has a problem with tourism. We have too much of it causing too much damage and bringing too few benefits to Welsh people and Welsh communities. So let’s tax tourism, thereby reducing the unmanageable numbers, and invest the money raised in those areas suffering the worst.

One way of using this income would be to help young locals buy homes in areas where tourism, and the resultant irruption of good-lifers and retirees, has priced them out of the property market. But it would be insane to ‘invest’ the money raised from tourism to encourage more tourism!

Of course the argument usually employed against a tourism tax is the same one used against raising council tax on holiday homes, which is that such measures would reduce the numbers of tourists coming from England.

I have given this argument a great deal of thought. It has caused me many a sleepless night. But for the life of me, I don’t get it. Because from where I’m sitting, Welsh people and Welsh communities seeing financial and other benefits from fewer tourists is a win-win situation.

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 IS ‘WELLNESS’ A SYNONYM FOR PRIVATE HEALTH CARE?

Those of you lucky enough to live in James-shire, the entertainment capital of Wales, may already be aware of the goodies coming your way in the very vague form of the Wellness village, or the Wellness centre, planned for Delta Lakes in Llanelli. I say ‘very vague’ because even if you are aware of it, I guarantee you don’t know who’s involved and what it’s all about.

Meryl
MERYL GRAVELL

There are so many interlinking and overlapping organisations involved with this project that I shall not attempt to list them, let alone guess at how they might be connected. Instead, I refer you to a piece that appeared on the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board website in December 2015, and this article from last week’s Llanelli Herald which quotes the one and only Meryl Gravell, Mark James’ plenipotentiary extraordinary to us mere mortals.

If I was cynical (and I thank God I’m not!) I might suggest that what’s happening is this: The leisure centre is being demolished and a new one built; but to get as much lolly as possible bells and whistles are being added in order to promote the project as a ‘Wellness Centre’ incorporating a health centre, a hotel and conference centre, facilities for various ‘therapies’, etc.

Which could result in some poor bugger struggling down there with a bad back, going through the wrong door and finding himself confronted by a Siberian shaman; or perhaps getting legless with a bunch of middle managers down for a conference.

And if I wanted to be really, really cynical I might wonder who is involved in this project that isn’t among the many bodies named. For even the most trusting soul might have his or her suspicions raised by this document on South Llanelli, adopted by Carmarthenshire County Council in December 2014, which has this to say of Delta Lakes (on page 25): “Other related uses (eg healthcare /service sector – social and/or private health care) may also be considered appropriate”.

“Private health care”! Can we hypothesise that the undisclosed ‘partners’ in this project might be private health care providers? Though let me say that I have no objection in principle to private health care. Who can possibly object as long as such companies build hospitals and other health facilities using money provided by investors, banks, and those subscribing to private health care schemes?

But this is Wales and, more importantly, Carmarthenshire, so there must be a possibility that a company providing private health care has been wooed to Delta Lakes with the promise of spanking new facilities funded with public money, sixty million pounds of it.

And this being Wales it will also be trumpeted as a great coup that BUPA or Spire has chosen to ‘invest’ in Llanelli and Carmarthenshire. The massive investment from the public purse that underpins and explains this ‘coup’ will of course be downplayed if not excised entirely from the hyperbolic narrative.

So I suggest that instead of trying to confuse the public, those behind this project explain it better, and give us the names of all the ‘partners’. If only to allay the suspicions many hold.

Because Carmarthenshire in recent years has seen too many projects pushed through in secret. Loans have been made (and lost), and planning permission has been granted, on a nod and a wink. Small wonder that some ask if backhanders might explain this curious methodology.

And seeing as this Delta Lakes project – whatever it is – has the enthusiastic support of Mark James and Meryl Gravell we’re also entitled to ask if the council’s favourite business adviser, Robin Cammish, is involved.

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A LITTLE HOME IN THE WEST – RENTED FROM AN ‘INVESTOR’?

I like a man who can’t be fobbed of with flim-flam and bullshit, and one such man is regular correspondent Wynne Jones down in Cardigan. Not only is Wynne alert to flim-flam but he’s also very well organised, knowing what questions to ask and to whom they should be directed.

Not so long ago, after receiving information from Wynne, I wrote about Pembrokeshire Housing and its subsidiary Mill Bay Homes, first in Social Housing, Time to End This Lunacy (December 14), and then with Mill Bay Homes, Tai Ceredigion, Answers Needed (January 03).

To briefly explain, Pembrokeshire Housing is a publicly-funded – £27m since 2008 in Social Housing Grant alone – housing association or Registered Social Landlord (RSL). Mill Bay Homes, a ‘subsidiary’ of Pembrokeshire Housing builds and sells properties on the open market, with the money made from this activity going to the parent company for it to invest in more units of social housing . . . or at least, that’s the theory.

But as Wynne found out in a recent reply from Helga Warren, Head of Housing Funding for the ‘Welsh’ Government, Pembrokeshire Housing has yet to see a penny of the money Mill Bay Homes has made from five private developments! Admitted in the extract below, taken from a larger document (click to enlarge).

Wynne Jones Helga Warren

 

 

 

As I mentioned in my earlier posts, Mill Bay Homes advertises its properties as ideal investments for Buy-to-let landlords. Some reading this might think it odd for the subsidiary of a publicly-funded RSL to be encouraging such activity, I certainly think there’s something not right here.

Especially when we realise that Mill Bay Homes also administers the ‘Welsh’ Government’s Help to Buy – Cymru scheme, intended to help people, presumably young people, buy their first new home. Inevitably, Wynne and I wondered if ‘investors’ had been allowed to avail themselves of the Help to Buy scheme.

Ms Warren came to the rescue with this assurance: “Help to Buy is operated by Help to Buy (Wales) Ltd. They carry out extensive checks on behalf of Welsh Government as part of the affordability calculations for any potential buyer. As part of this assessment customers are advised that buy-to-let investments are strictly prohibited under the scheme. Scheme documentation clearly indicates that any fraudulent application for Help to Buy (Wales) assistance could be liable to criminal prosecution. Any fraudulent claims uncovered as part of our monitoring and governance arrangements, will always require immediate repayment of the shared equity loan assistance”.

Read it carefully. There is ‘advice’, there is ‘documentation’, but there seem to be no real checks. As things stand, someone from outside of Wales could buy a new property from Mill Bay Homes, taking advantage of the Help to Buy – Wales scheme, and use it as a holiday home – because nobody is checking. It is a system yelling to be abused.

But even this is only part of the much wider problem we have with housing associations, which in Wales have received, since 2008, close on £800m in Social Housing Grant alone. Then there’s Dowry Gap funding projected to cost £1.3bn and Welsh Quality Housing Standard funding of an estimated £1.7bn. Finally, there’s the Housing Finance Grant totalling £120m.

These are huge amounts of money in a poor country like Wales, so surely the ‘Welsh’ Government insists on every penny being accounted for . . . umm, no. The ‘Welsh’ Government dishes out the cash and seems to say something along the lines of, ‘If you get a chance, you might want to send in a report telling us how you’ve spent the money. No need for any nonsense like differentiating capital from revenue, or explaining where the money’s actually gone, all we need is good news to use as propaganda and to justify us giving you the money in the first place’.

There is no official oversight or monitoring. Housing associations regulate themselves. No one in the ‘Welsh’ Government seems to give a damn as to whether or not billions of pounds of public funding are being properly spent.

Keep up the good work, Wynne.

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‘EVERYTHING MUST GO’ SAYS CYNGOR CEREDIGION PwC 

Someone else with whom I’m in contact down west tells me of a curious partnership that has developed between Cyngor Ceredigion and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC). It seems the council has retained bean-counters PwC to identify areas where cuts can be made – for a fee of 16% of identified savings.

And as in neighbouring Carmarthenshire, openness and telling the public what you’re doing in their name comes very low down on the list of priorities, with things being stitched up at private meetings.

Though this report from the ‘Nazis’ Cambrian News is able to tell us that by late January the council had already paid PwC £963,630. If my maths is up to it, this must mean savings already of over £6m. (And this must be delicate or even dangerous work, because it looks as if the reporters need to use pseudonyms.)

When you come to think about it, it’s a bloody strange system. This company is paid by cuts it identifies. So let’s say Ceredigion spends £100m a year on education, PwC could argue that, ‘The little buggers have all got iPads and smart phones nowadays – let them get their education from Google and Wikipedia‘, and make themselves a quick £16m! I could do that!

Then again, maybe there’s a simple explanation for it all.

Cuts have been forced on our local authorities by the Labour regime in Cardiff docks, and every time cuts are announced rural – i.e. non-Labour – councils take the hit, with Labour-voting councils being protected from the worst.

Now it just so happens that PwC is a major donor to the Labour Party. This article from the Guardian (12.11.2014) explains that Labour received £600,000 of advice from PwC on forming its tax policies – from a company that specialises in tax avoidance schemes. This article from the New Statesman (19.02.2015) tells us that, apart from trade unions, PwC is Labour’s biggest donor.

Ceredigion PwC
I was surprised to find no mention of Ceredigion on the PwC website

As we all know, few individuals and no companies give large sums of money to a political party without expecting something in return. I guarantee that PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP is no exception.

Can’t you just imagine the phone call from London to Cardiff: ‘Listen now, Carwell, PwC have been very generous to the party, so we’d like you to put some business their way, some out-of-way place where nobody’ll ask too many question. Got that?

Though that still might not explain why a non-Labour authority would agree to go along with this lunacy, so maybe the responsibility lies within Ceredigion. Can you help?

                                             ———————————————————————

Of course, none of our local authorities would need to cut services if the ‘Welsh’ Government wasn’t so profligate with it’s meagre resources; especially with the funding it showers on housing associations and the Third Sector, money that the ‘Welsh Government loses all interest in once it’s been handed over.

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Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus / Happy St. David’s Day