Mill Bay Homes and Pembrokeshire Housing 2

This is just a brief update to my previous post. I have to be careful what I write because I’m being watched. No, honestly, this is not paranoia, certain people will be reading this very carefully.

Therefore I hope you will understand that I have to be cautious, avoiding the injudicious phrase, the unintended calumny, otherwise certain persons down west will again be scuttling to £260-an-hour Ms Tracey Singlehurst-Ward of Hugh James Legal.

A BIG FAT I.O.U.

To recap . . . Mill Bay Homes is a ‘subsidiary’ of Pembrokeshire Housing, it’s raison d’être is to build and sell houses, then hand the profits from the sale of those properties back to the parent company so that it can build more social units for rent.

It may be worth mentioning – by way of background information – that before a name change in the first quarter of 2012 Mill Bay Homes was known as Pembrokeshire Housing Two Thousand Ltd, a company set up in 1998 that never traded.

MBH Why Buy With Us
FROM THE MILL BAY HOMES WEBSITE (click to enlarge)

So that’s the theory, the justification for Mill Bay Homes. But how’s it working out in practice? Let’s look at what information is available, add a few things that have been said, and then let us draw some conclusions, which we are fully entitled to do, as members of the generous Welsh public that has poured tens of millions of pounds into Pembrokeshire Housing.

When it comes to available information, we encounter a major obstacle in that it’s probably easier to get hold of Vladimir Putin’s personal e-mails than it is to see accounts for Mill Bay Homes. The problem being that because it’s not a regular company there’s nothing filed with Companies House. Because it’s not a charity it’s ditto with the Charity Commission. And while MBH claims to have filed accounts with the Financial Conduct Authority, the FCA says it has received nothing since the report for y/e 31.03.2013.

Though when my collaborator Wynne Jones wrote to the ‘Welsh’ Government, using an FoI request to ask for those accounts he was told, by Ceri Breeze, Head of Housing Policy, that the accounts were already in the public domain – with the Financial Conduct Authority! Sometimes it’s difficult to avoid the suspicion that information is being deliberately withheld on Mill Bay Homes, and that fibs are being told in order to throw people off the scent.

Anyway, let’s see what we can glean from the Pembrokeshire Housing accounts. In particular, the extracts below taken from the figures for the year ending on March 31st 2015. Figures that I suspect are connected.

PH Combined figures 2015

You will see that between 31.03.2013 and 31.03.2015 Pembrokeshire Housing’s cash reserves fell dramatically, from £12,551,763 to £2,782,838. A reduction of £9,768,926, or 78%.

During the years ending 31.03.2014 and 31.03.2015 £6,135,000 was ‘loaned’ to Mill Bay Homes. The most recent figures available for Mill Bay Homes, those for y/e 31.03.2013, show a ‘loan’ of £245,000, which we can be fairly sure came from the parent company. If we add them it gives us a total of £6,360,000.

MBH Loans received 2013

Without wishing to over-egg it I suggest we must also add other costs not stipulated. For example, Pembrokeshire Housing staff must have been working on the Mill Bay Homes ‘project’, and they must have used Pembrokeshire Housing offices and equipment, plus consumables, before Mill Bay Homes was up and running.

So I think we can reasonably assume that Mill Bay Homes owes Pembrokeshire Housing closer to seven million pounds than six. How is this to be repaid? Fortunately, last week’s Pembrokeshire Herald ran an article on my recent, ahem, difficulties and in this article group supremo Peter Maggs was quoted as saying, “The target is (for MBH) to deliver £1m of surplus for each of the next five years”. Which will – if achieved – return just five of the six million plus that’s owed.

(Note that the Pembrokeshire Herald couldn’t get my name right – “Roytston”, they called me, bloody “Roytston”!!! Is that defamation? Maybe I need a good solicitor – I wonder if Ms Singlehurst-Ward would take the case?)

‘A MILLION A YEAR FOR FIVE YEARS’, SAYS YER MAN

I have no opportunity to buy the otherwise excellent Pembrokeshire Herald except when I’m visiting the county, so I haven’t seen the ‘paper myself. But someone was kind enough to send me a photograph of the article, here, and another kind act saw the piece sent as text.

Seeing as we are talking of Mill Bay Homes repaying Pembrokeshire Housing a cool million a year it might be instructive to know if any of the outstanding six million plus has yet been repaid. The figures for y/e 31.03.2016 are obviously not yet available, but the previous year’s figures tell us that the princely sum of £36,070 was received. Which leaves . . . roughly the same figure we started with. And that’s without taking interest into account.

Another way of looking at it would be that at the rate of £36,070 a year it would take Mill Bay Homes 176 years to repay what it owes.

PH Income from subsidiary 2015

This might make some of you think that Peter Maggs’ claim is a little overblown, but it could be worse than that. Here are a number of things to consider:

  • I’m told that Mill Bay Homes is working to a 17% profit margin while the building industry usually works to a 25% margin on new builds.
  • Before anything can be returned to Pembrokeshire Housing Mill Bay Homes will have to deduct its costs. In addition, it will need to buy the next development site and go through the planning process and other procedures, then pay to build that next development.
  • So how much from each house sale will Pembrokeshire Housing actually see? Let’s assume that the average sale price of a Mill Bay property is £130,000. At 17% and deducting the costs just mentioned Pembrokeshire Housing might see a return of £50,000 per property.
  • Of course, these calculations are necessarily speculative due to the absence of any publicly available accounts or other information for Mill Bay Homes.
  • If the purpose of lending money to Mill Bay Homes is to generate income to build social housing why didn’t Pembrokeshire Housing instead of lending the money to get part of it returned use all of it to build social housing?

INTERPRETATIONS

One worry I have is that achieving Peter Maggs’ target will result in unfair competition for local building firms without the benefit of Mill Bay Homes’ inexhaustible source of funding, a source that relieves it of the need to return a profit. Is this the plan?

‘Welsh’ Labour we know is anti-business, also a ‘statist’ party that wants to control everything. So is this its way of surreptitiously making house building a state-controlled industry? If not, how else do we explain a publicly-funded housing association being allowed to set up a subsidiary that is, effectively, a no-risk private house builder?

One possibility is that we are discussing a trailblazer for a new type of business entirely. This is not idle speculation on my part, the idea has been knocking around for a while. I’m talking now of fully privatised housing associations. And it’s already started, as this article from the Guardian last August tells us.

The advantages are obvious. Housing associations have solid assets in the form of bricks and mortar, so they’ll have little trouble finding investors and securing loans. As long as the right legal safeguards are in place for all types of tenants, and the right incentives for investors, why not relieve the public purse of a massive burden by privatising social housing in Wales? These could be lucrative, profit-making businesses.

Proven by Pembrokeshire Housing itself. In 2013 it had cash reserves of £12,551,763, yet it’s one of the smaller housing associations, this is partly due to the fact that Pembrokeshire County Council retains its own council housing stock. If such a small outfit can build up such cash reserves then what is the picture with the big boys?

Though that said, some people – more cynical than I, you understand – might suggest that Mill Bay Homes was set up for the express purpose of soaking up this embarrassment of cash. For the nest-egg might otherwise have had to be returned, or might have resulted in reduced funding. Because I’m sure most people would believe that a relatively small, rural housing association with over £12m stashed under the mattress should not be receiving a penny from the public purse.

One thing’s for sure, housing associations as we know them in Wales are discredited. For a start, there are just too many of them, receiving inordinate amounts of funding, with too much of that money going on inflated salaries and administrative costs, and with very little effective oversight by the ‘Welsh’ Government. Housing associations are out of control, like some over-indulged adolescent forever finding new ways to get money out of his parents.

RCT Homes salary

In addition, and perhaps especially in rural areas, housing associations waste money on new properties for which there is no local demand, then they import tenants, many of whom have ‘issues’, because of course they can charge more for housing problem families, petty criminals, drug addicts and other undesirables than they could ever charge hard-working, law-abiding locals.

Unless I receive important new information on Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes this may be my final post on the subject. I think I’ve said everything I need to say at present.

If those who claim to be managing Wales still see nothing wrong with the parent – subsidiary arrangement I’ve described, and if they believe that the current plethora of publicly-funded and competing housing associations is the cheapest and most effective way of delivering rented accommodation, then Wales is in a bigger mess than I had ever imagined.

UPDATE 17.06.2016: Surprise! Surprise! After all the attention Mill Bay Homes has been getting of late the Annual Return and Accounts for y/e 31.03.2014 and y/e 31.03.2015 are finally available on the Financial Conduct Authority website. They were added just a few days ago.

As I’m tied up for the next few days I won’t have time to give these accounts the attention they deserve, but perhaps my analytical readers would like to peruse them and give us their interpretations. Here are the accounts for 2014 and here for 2015.

Quickly skimming through them I was struck by the fact that in the 2015 report, in answer to question 1.19, Mill Bay Homes claims to be a Community Benefit Society because it benefits, “People seeking housing accommodation” (as opposed to any other form of accommodation). If Mill Bay Homes is accepted as a Community Benefit Society then I suggest the FCA gets ready for a rush of applications to join the club – from Wimpey, Persimmon, Redrow and all the rest.

But of course MBH would defend its claim to be a Community Benefit Society by the answer it gives to 1.21, which asks how surpluses or profits are used. The answer reads, “Surplus was transferred to the parent Registered Social Landlord to invest in affordable housing”. Why not just say ‘the parent company’, why stress that it’s a RSL? And why “affordable housing” not ‘social housing’? MBH claims to build and sell ‘affordable housing’.

Though these considerations bring us back to the underlying idiocy of this model. Pembrokeshire Housing, a provider of social housing, has £10m in spare cash. Rather than use that money for the purpose it was given the money is loaned to Mill Bay Homes to build and sell houses. Then perhaps £1m of profit is returned to PH for social housing. Why not use the original £10m for its intended purpose of social housing?

Could it be that Pembrokeshire Housing had more money than it needed, or knew how to use, and rather than admit to that embarrassment, it came up with the absurdity that is Mill Bay Homes?

UPDATE 21.07.2016: In an e-mail of July 18th Simon Fowler of the ‘Welsh’ Government’s Housing Directorate, had this to say: “We have had sight of a confirmation from the FCA that Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes submitted all their regulatory returns by the given deadline. It went on to confirm that due to an error at the FCA, the returns were not published. We are satisfied that PHA and MBH have not acted inappropriately – either deliberately or mistakenly – when submitting the returns required by law.”

Today, my co-investigator, Wynne Jones, received an e-mail from Nazmul Ahmed at the FCA, he had this to say of the Mill Bay Homes returns: “I have spoken to my colleague and we can provide the dates we received the annual return and accounts – 2013/14- 2 June 2016, 2014/15- 2 June 2016′. 

The timing is significant. I published posts on Mill Bay Homes on the following dates, April 25th, May 20th and May 23rd. These were taken down under threat of legal action conveyed in a letter from Ms Tracey Singlehurst-Ward of Hugh James Solicitors of May 31st. I can imagine Ms S-W saying to MBH, ‘OK, I’ll try and put the frighteners on him, but you’ve got to get your house in order, don’t give him ammunition’.

But where does this leave Simon Fowler? I think the kindest thing I can say of Mr Fowler and his colleagues is that they make it up as they go along. What I and others have learnt in recent months suggests there is no oversight of housing associations by the ‘Welsh’ Government, little regulation, and that they are free to do as they like – with hundreds of millions of pounds of our money.

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NEXT: The promised article in which I explain why I’m voting Leave in the EU referendum

 

Mill Bay Homes and Pembrokeshire Housing

THREAT OF LEGAL ACTION

Late in the afternoon of Tuesday May 31st I received an e-mail from Tracey Singlehurst-Ward of Hugh James Legal in Cardiff. Ms Singlehurst-Ward was of the opinion that I’d been a naughty boy for saying things about her clients, Pembrokeshire Housing and its ‘subsidiary’ Mill Bay Homes. I of course responded.

Ms Singlehurst-Ward’s letter threatened me with a deadline of 4pm on June 3rd, just three days away. If I had not drastically re-written the offending posts by that time then all manner of unpleasant things would befall me. Being a reasonable man, I offered the compromise of taking down the offending pieces by June 10th, by when I would have published a ‘clarification’ post. Having heard nothing from Ms Singlehurst-Ward by the afternoon of June 2nd I thought I’d better get in touch again, to see if my offer had been accepted.

Finding that my offer had been rejected I had to accept that I was in a somewhat tricky position, and so I decided upon a tactical withdrawal by taking down the offending pieces rather than redacting the offending passages and making them unintelligible.

For there were things I’d written that could be misinterpreted, some of what I’d written might have been wrong (usually due to misinformation, often from official sources). And then Ms Singleton-Ward had produced a litany of earth-shattering inaccuracies such as someone described as a ‘former councillor’ by Pembrokeshire Housing not having been a councillor in Pembrokeshire, as I had reasonably assumed, and stated.

Hugh James logo

There followed a third round of correspondence between us and, hopefully, that’s the end of it, otherwise we’ll have enough material for an epistolary novel. But wait! – Ms Singlehurst-Ward and her clients haven’t read this post yet!

It seemed fairly obvious from the initial salvo that someone had gone to Ms Singlehurst-Ward with a dossier of posts from my blog. This was, basically, what she sent me; screen shots from my blog topped and tailed with her listing my heinous crimes. It probably didn’t take her long to put together.

But seeing as this assault on me is being funded out of the Welsh public purse, and seeing as Ms Singlehurst-Ward charges £260 an hour, maybe we should be thankful she hasn’t been asked to do too much work.

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WHERE I’M COMING FROM

In this blog, which has been running since January 2013 (and in the blog that preceded it on the Google platform), I have consistently criticised the Labour Party and the cronyism and nepotism associated with it; a system of patronage that has seen billions of pounds of public money wasted, a system that does so much to condemn Wales to relative poverty.

One of the great weaknesses of this system is that there is no effective oversight or monitoring of the bodies receiving large amounts of public funding. Much is left to self-evaluation and self-regulation, an approach that served the public interest so well with MPs, newspapers, banks, etc. On the other hand, one of the system’s strengths, certainly from the perspective of the Labour Party, is that it helps spread Labour’s influence.

Because if a Labour regime in Cardiff ultimately controls the purse strings of a body in an area where the Labour Party is weak, then a passive ‘loyalty’ of the not-biting-the-hand-that-feeds-you variety can be assured. Which is rewarded with the ‘light touch’ regulation referred to in the previous paragraph.

Another reason this system flourishes is due to the lack of an effective political opposition. Plaid Cymru occasionally threatens to hold Labour to account but invariably falls into line because too many in that party still view Labour as comrades in arms against the real enemy of the Tories, or the here-today-gone-tomorrow ‘threat’ of UKIP.

But beyond that, Plaid Cymru is fundamentally weak. Even in the dictatorship that is Carmarthenshire Plaid Cymru, the larger party in the ruling coalition, refuses to oust, or even curb, Mark James, which tells us that the chances of Plaid Cymru seriously threatening Labour’s entrenched hegemony in Wales are close to zero.

Another factor that allows Labour to chug on unworried by criticism is that Wales has no media to talk of, virtually nothing that is not owned or controlled from outside of Wales. What masquerades as our ‘national newspaper’ exists to promote Cardiff, to donate page after page to the Welsh Rugby Union and, despite having a readership plummeting towards man and dog proportions, is kept financially afloat by official announcements, legal notices and advertisements paid for by – the ‘Welsh’ Labour Government.

And yet, despite having no real opposition, and with no media to hold it to account, Labour is still losing its grip on Wales. Perhaps it’s an example of the old adage ‘You can’t fool all of the people all of the time’; but whatever the reason, Labour gained just a third of the vote in last month’s Assembly elections.

Wales in 2016 lives under a corrupt political system that generates little wealth and is over-reliant on hand-outs; but these hand-outs, rather than being used for the purposes the money was given – education and training, building of infrastructure, encouragement of twenty-first-century businesses – are instead used to build up a network beholden to those doling out the money.

Which results in Wales today having more in common with the developing world than with Western Europe. In a couple of weeks we’ll be voting on whether to stay in the EU, maybe we should be voting on whether or not to join the African Union.

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THE SUBSTANCE OF THE MATTER

Pembrokeshire Housing Association is a Registered Social Landlord (P072) with the ‘Welsh’ Government and also registered with the Financial Conduct Authority as an Industrial & Provident Society (23308R). Since 2008 Pembrokeshire Housing has received around £28m in Social Housing Grant from the ‘Welsh’ Government, and there are other funding streams.

The issues arise when we consider Pembrokeshire Housing’s subsidiary, Mill Bay Homes, and to appreciate my concerns we need to go back a bit. In 1998 Pembrokeshire Housing formed a subsidiary called Pembrokeshire Housing Two Thousand Ltd, the sort of name popular at the time as we prepared for the Millennium.

The genesis of Mill Bay Homes

The panel below is taken from what I believe to be the last return made by PH2000 Ltd to the FCA before the name was changed in 2012 to Mill Bay Homes Ltd. You’ll see that despite being in existence for some twelve years PH2000 Ltd did nothing. The Return says that turnover for the year was just £810, which seems mainly attributable to interest on assets of £30,995.

PH2000 Ltd FCA return 2011

Though it does perhaps raise the question of how a company that had never traded came into possession of any assets.

The nature of Mill Bay Homes

So what is Mill Bay Homes, why was it set up and what does it do? Apparently it was set up to do exactly what PH2000 Ltd never got round to doing: “undertake trading activity outside the charitable objectives of parent association”. In that case, why change the name?

The home page of the Mill Bay Homes website spells out quite clearly what it thinks it does, it seems to be all about that overworked word, ‘lifestyle’:

MBH Welcome

Elsewhere the website tells us, under the ‘Purchasers’ tab, that Mill Bay Homes seeks ‘First Time Buyers’, ‘Moving Up Buyers’, ‘Retirement Buyers’ and ‘Investment Buyers’. So that’s downsizers and upsizers catered for.

The first, and only, returns that I can find for Mill Bay Homes are those for 2012 / 2013, made to the Financial Conduct Authority. It will be seen that Mill Bay Homes has assets of over £300,000, of which £294,390 is “Work in progress”, presumably the development of 11 properties at Letterston, helped with a “Loan from parent company” of £245,000. This seems to be the only sizeable debt – but enough to build eleven new houses?

‘Welsh’ Government’

In the now removed posts I made the mistake of suggesting that Mill Bay Homes was not a Registered Social Landlord because I couldn’t find it on the ‘Welsh’ Government’s website where RSLs are listed. That was because the website did not include subsidiaries. I am happy to clear that up and direct you to the relevant page.

This registration, and the very number, L124, were inherited from Pembrokeshire Housing 2000 Ltd, which some might argue legitimises Mill Bay Homes as a RSL, being nothing more than PH2000 Ltd after a name change. Whereas others might say, ‘Ah, but Pembrokeshire Housing Two Thousand Ltd never traded, consequently there was neither need nor opportunity to challenge its right to be a RSL’. Others, that is, not necessarily me.

Because I’m sure that some people reading this article are wondering whether Mill Bay Homes – which to all intents and purposes is a private house builder – should be a Registered Social Landlord. A question motivated by nothing more than curiosity and a wish to see everything ship-shape.

So let me suggest that the ‘Welsh’ Government clears this matter up. All it needs to say is:

‘We are perfectly happy for Mill Bay Homes to remain a Registered Social Landlord while selling four-bedroom, detached properties, and building other dwellings that target buy-to-let investors and retirees from England’.

What could be easier than that, just to set the record straight?

Financial Conduct Authority

A similar problem presents itself with Mill Bay Homes status via-à-vis the Financial Conduct Authority, where – I am given understand – Mill Bay Homes is registered as an Industrial & Provident Society. And yet, things are not clear-cut.

Mill Bay Homes insists it is registered with the FCA, and indeed, in the second batch of correspondence between us, Ms Singlehurst-Ward even supplied copies of what she said were letters accompanying those returns. Yet the FCA says Mill Bay Homes has filed nothing since 2013. The website says the same thing.

I can’t help wondering if this conundrum might have something to do with the Co-operative and Community Benefits Societies Act 2014. This new legislation seems to suggests that Industrial and Provident Societies are now a thing of the past – replaced by ‘registered societies’ – though the label may be retained by an I&PS in existence when the Act came into force.

Where I’m really confused – and here perhaps Ms Singlehurst-Ward or one of her colleagues can help – is by the information contained in the panel below. Under the new legislation is Mill Bay Homes is ‘”bona fide” co-operative’ or a ‘for the benefit of the community’ organisation?

FCA new rules

I’m genuinely confused, so I shall write to the FCA asking for clarification of Mill Bay Homes’ status. I’m sure officials at Mill Bay Homes have already written to the FCA, demanding an explanation as to why two years’ returns fail to show on the FCA website.

My confusion is not helped by Ms Singlehurst-Ward being unable to provide any evidence of the FCA receiving those submissions beyond an unspecific automated response. And while the Mill Bay Homes return for y/e 31.03.2014 is in the name of Mill Bay Homes alone, for y/e 31.03.2015 the return was made for MBH by Pembrokeshire Housing.

Is the difference in procedure between end of March 2014 and end of March 2015 somehow linked with the new legislation that came into force on August 1st 2014?

Help to Buy – Wales

In the posts now committed to the Outer Darkness I wrote of the Help to Buy – Wales scheme, and Mill Bay’s involvement. Specifically, I drew attention to the fact that one of the beneficiaries of HtB on the Pentlepoir development, Adam Karl Uka, is a close personal friend of Nick Garrod, Land and Construction Manager for Mill Bay Homes.

Ms Singlehurst-Ward had this to say: “For the avoidance of doubt the connection between our client’s employee (Garrod) and Mr Uka could not have had any impact upon the latter’s application to the Help to Buy scheme because our client does not administer that funding”.

So there you have it. Being buddies with the builder is unconnected with being allowed to buy the most desirable property on the development, a property offering access to Help to Buy, and one that, furthermore, was extensively modified to Uka’s personal specifications.

UPDATE 21:26 (see image, click to enlarge)

Uka land grab

There were quite a number of other Help to Buy properties at the Pentlepoir development. Many more than at all Mill Bay Homes’ other developments combined.

This talk of Pentlepoir brings us to an issue covered in one of my now lost posts that clearly annoyed Ms Singlehurst-Ward’s clients. I’m referring to my claim that Mill Bay Homes were, in the specific example I used, ‘Neighbours from Hell’. So let me explain why I used that emotive term.

‘Neighbours from Hell’

The property bought by Adam Karl Uka underwent considerable modifications, and these changes caused a lot of anguish and no little suffering to the family most directly affected.

Before going into details of their plight let me clear up the issue of planning permission, for Ms Singlehurst-Ward seems to believe there was no deviation from the original planning permission. This document makes it clear there was deviation. The ‘Plot 10’ referred to in the document became 35 Coppins Park, Adam Karl Uka’s residence.

What Ms Singlehurst-Ward actually said in relation to planning permission was, “All properties (at Pentlepoir) were constructed in accordance with the planning permission granted”. Maybe, but in the case of 35 Coppins Park, it was not in accordance with the original planning permission.

As you can work out from the ‘Variation’ document, the new property became both higher, raised by at least a metre, thereby overlooking neighbouring properties, and it also moved closer to the property most directly affected. This resulted in work being carried out by Mill Bay’s contractors right up to the boundary of a neighbouring property, resulting in damage.

Both proximity to the boundary and some of the damage caused are clearly visible in the photographs below. (Click to enlarge.) Other problems were subsidence and damage to a boundary fence.

MBH Pentlepoir composite

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the contractors showed they had a sense of humour (or something) with this almost unbelievable incident in which a digger bucket was deliberately swung towards two neighbours. Just watch this video. The neighbours could have been seriously injured or even killed by this idiotic stunt. Here’s a still showing how close the bucket came to the head of the woman.

MBH digger bucket, head

There is no question that for one family at least, Mill Bay Homes definitely proved to be the ‘Neighbour from Hell’. Read these neighbours’ chilling account of what they had to put up with here.

It may be significant that for Phase 2 at Pentlepoir, which included Mr Uka’s house, and where neighbours experienced such problems, the contractors did not register with the Considerate Constructors Scheme, as they had for Phase 1. I wonder why?

Considerate Constructors

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‘SUBSIDIARIES’

The relationship between a ‘parent’ organisation such as Pembrokeshire Housing and a subsidiary like Mill Bay Homes is one I’ve encountered many times before in my delving into the Third Sector and other publicly-funded outfits.

These subsidiaries are often known as ‘trading arms’. After many years investigating the use of public funding by all manner of imaginative organisations I still get a little frisson when I encounter the term.

Here’s an example from early last year when someone drew my attention to Canoe Wales. My first post was White Water Up Shit Creek, followed by Canoe Wales 2, and finally, Canoe Wales 3: Paddling One’s Own Canoe. Not.

It’s quite a complicated picture of an organisation receiving public funding but with money and tangible assets passing between it and subsidiaries, with subsidiaries folding and debts being written off. But the worry here, and this applies to other groups I’ve looked at, is that the funder – in this case, Sport Wales – seems only interested in the parent body because it is the one receiving the moolah. Nobody seems concerned about subsidiaries that may be indirect recipients of public funding.

I am not for one minute suggesting that this is the sort of thing that happens between Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes, I merely use it as a warning of the kind of problems that can arise when a publicly-funded body sets up subsidiaries or ‘trading arms’.

That said, there is one area where Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes could certainly learn from Canoe Wales. After publishing the first post I had a telephone call from a representative of the paddlers. A charming Caledonian gent named Mark Williamson. He even invited me over to their White Water Centre on Afon Tryweryn.

I was tempted, but then I thought, ‘What if it’s a dastardly plot to drown old Jac!’ Because I’ve heard that there are one or two people out there who’d like to do that! (Difficult to believe, I know, but there you are.)

The point is that Mr Williamson didn’t run to a £260 an hour solicitor, he fronted up like a man and said, ‘Let me put you straight on a few things’. Just think of all the misunderstandings that could be avoided, all the problems that could be resolved, and all the public money that could be saved, if more people adopted that approach.

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A PLAGUE OF LAWYERS

For a sensitive soul such as I it was quite disconcerting to be on the receiving end of a sudden and unexpected assault from Hugh James, but I soon learnt that I wasn’t the only one getting attention.

At around the same time I received my initial letter from Hugh James my server Systemau Cyfrifiadurol Cambria also received a threatening letter from Ms Singlehurst-Ward. It read ” . . . website hosted by you . . . defamatory . . . Jac utter bastard”. Almost certainly done in the hope that it would lead to the plug being pulled on my blog. Gwilym, of SCCambria, gave a robust response.

But it didn’t end there!

For on Friday June 3rd I learnt that the family in Pentlepoir that had suffered so much, they who had the digger bucket swung at them, had also received a letter from Ms Singlehurst-Ward of Hugh James. Her clients obviously knew who had been giving me information. (Which says a lot, if you think about it.)

I loved the bit in the letter that read, “Whilst out clients have no desire to stifle free speech or indeed honest debate . . . “. Sorry, Tracey, love, but that’s exactly what your now embarrassed clients are trying to do.

The aggrieved couple referred the threatening Hugh James letter to both their solicitor and Dyfed Powys Police.

Then, to cap an extraordinary week, Gwilym received a second letter, from another solicitor, this time a Wayne Beynon of Capital Law in Cardiff. This letter had nothing to do with Pembrokeshire Housing or Mill Bay Homes.

capital_law_Logo_500x260

Beynon was acting on behalf of Leighton Andrews. You must remember him, he used to be the Assembly Member for Rhondda. He was upset about a comment to my post Assembly Elections 2016. This comment suggested a link between a jailed paedophile a failed PCC candidate and Andrews.

The strange thing about this was that the complaint came down to a single comment made to this post by a third party. So why not write to me? I would have removed it, as I did when Gwilym told me about it. (Here’s my reply.)

While writing this I’ve heard from Gwilym, telling me that he’s had a reply from Beynon. It says, “I have also been contacted by your client, Mr Jones, who has removed the unlawful statements from his website.” And there was me thinking that decisions on what was unlawful involved the police, judges, courts, juries. Perhaps we should do away with the rest of the apparatus and hand the legal system over to lawyers.

What are we to make of the events of last week? If it had just been a letter to me then I would have assumed that I had pissed off Pembrokeshire Housing and / or Mill Bay Homes. But the letters to my server, and the people in Pentlepoir? And then the letter on behalf of Leighton Andrews?

If I wanted to be generous, then I suppose I’d dismiss it all as coincidence. But on reflection I think it could be an attempt to a) deter anyone from associating themselves with this blog and, b) get this blog closed down.

Which I find rather encouraging; for it suggests I might be doing something right!

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MY MOTIVATION

I do not know any of the leading players in Pembrokeshire Housing or Mill Bay Homes, so there can be no question of me being motivated by personal animus. I have had no dealings of any description with PH or MBH. I have never even lived in Pembrokeshire. And I stand to make no personal gain from my writings on PH and MBH.

My motivation in my enquiries into PH and MBH – and countless other organisations I have investigated – has always been protection of the public interest and defence of the public purse; these ambitions being inseparable from the desire to see transparency in the operations of devolved government, local government and the Third Sector.

I find myself writing this on the anniversary of the attack on the toll gate at Yr Efail Wen. A banner often carried by ‘Rebecca’s followers read ‘Cyfiawnder nid Cyfraith’ (Justice not Law). As appropriate now as it was back then, because not a lot seems to have changed in almost two hundred years.

Wales is still a land with too much law and too little justice. And as ever, it’s those with deep pockets who can afford lawyers – but too often nowadays their pockets bulge with our money!

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NEXT: The EU referendum, and why I’m voting Leave

Freedom of Speech

After assorted threats from various sources – possibly a single source – to me and others associated with this blog, I plan to publish my definitive post on Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes within the next few days.

If certain persons in the south west, or elsewhere, don’t like what I write, then they can run – again – to a £260-an-hour Cardiff lawyer, and pay her out of the public purse, or they can just go fuck themselves. Don’t bother me one way or the other.

I’ve been reasonable, I have taken down everything that it was claimed offended these sensitive souls, but henceforth I shall stand by what I write. NOTHING will be taken down. I am calling your bluff, boys and girls.

Housing Associations – All Change?

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

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

HA mergers England

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

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

CANTREF

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

Cantref logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dai the Post

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

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

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

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

RCT HOMES

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

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

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

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

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

Adrian Barber

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

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

PSI Consultancy

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

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

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

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

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

Tower Fund

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

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

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

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

PEMBROKESHIRE HOUSING AND MILL BAY HOMES

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

 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

END

Tai Cantref: Favoured Suitor Named

Tai Cantref, the Newcastle Emlyn-based housing association has been in the news recently, but for all the wrong reasons. It has, I regret to say, found its way up Shit Creek, where it will struggle to find a berth due to all the other wrecks jostling for space.

For Shit Creek is now home port to a whole fleet of rusting hulks that have collectively ripped countless millions from the Welsh public purse in the devolution era, a period that has given us successive administrations believing that handing out billions to the Third Sector and assorted peripatetic shysters is a substitute for an economy.

Cantref 1

The troubles at Cantref did not come out of the blue, they’ve been predicted for some time. They seemed to start with a few poor business decisions, such as trying to turn the old government building at the foot of Bronglais Hill in Aber’ into student accommodation.

Though, in fairness, Cantref may have been trying to do the right thing. For here, in the Annual Report 2012 / 2013 (page 16) we read, “To build new homes, Cantref need (sic) to generate more income and rely less on Social Housing Grant. A successful new initiative to Cantref this year was the introduction of our new student accommodation. We were successful with the submission of 65 units to be part of the Welsh Government’s Revenue Grant programme”. Alternatively, Cantref was laying off one teat to start sucking on another.

The old government building though is quite impressive, as you can see . . . but then, white elephants so often are.

Cantref 2
Picture courtesy of Herald Group Newspapers

And then, when it began to be realised that Cantref was failing, it seems that a ‘What the hell!’ mentality took over and those responsible for Cantref’s demise decided to invest some of the remaining money in drowning their sorrows.

Or certainly, that’s the impression I gained from this comment to the blog last July. The ‘castle’ referred to is of course Chateau Tucker, the £15m B&B in Cardigan (paid for with public funding, of course), of which I have written many times.

Cantref Insider comment

Even though Cantref, a publicly-funded body, was subsequently investigated by persons answering to our democratically-elected representatives we, the public at large, we, whose money is used to fund these bodies, were not allowed to know what had gone wrong. And this from a Labour regime that preaches ‘openness’.

Cantref 3

Once it became known that Cantref was in trouble the vultures started circling, among them Mark James, chief executive of Carmarthenshire County Council, though how much the councillors knew of this bid is open to question. For Mr James believes in treating councillors as one would mushrooms. (Keep them in the dark and ply them regularly with shit.)

But there were others interested in taking over Cantref, as we were told by ‘Dai the Post’, in this comment from earlier this month. In particular, note Dai’s reference to “Hillary Jones, from neighbouring ha Bro Myrddin has been trying to self promote herself by persuading Wales and West ha from Cardiff to bail out Cantref and give her a bigger job as head of their western poorer Welsh speaking colony. Perhaps she has been getting advice from her (x Gwalia finance director) husband? More hostels anyone?”

Dai the Post

And so it came to pass. Today it was announced by a Cardiff PR company that the option preferred by Cantref is a ‘merger’ with Wales and West Housing of Cardiff. (Read the press release here.)

~~~

Extra! Extra! You will note in the press release that the person speaking on behalf of Cantref, and in favour of the merger with Wales and West is, “Kevin Taylor, Interim Chair”. Now I mentioned Taylor in Social Housing Back to Council Control? earlier this month, and I wondered who he is. Here’s what I wrote in that earlier post:

Cantref Kevin Taylor

I’m still wondering – Who is Kevin Taylor? Who appointed him to the chair of Cantref? (Here’s his Linkedin profile.)

~~~

Returning to Wales and West Housing, I have a number of problems with this proposal:

  • Judging by this video and other information on the website Wales and West spends a lot of our money building retirement homes for English people, which obviously increases the load on our overburdened NHS and other services. Acquiring Cantref, which operates mainly in Ceredigion, could represent something of a bonanza for a company seeking to attract English retirees.
  • There is a distinctly ‘unWelsh’ feel to Wales and West that perhaps reflects its areas of operation in the south east and the north east. (Check out the Directors to see what I’m alluding to. This is clearly a business, but not a Welsh business.) No merger should be allowed unless – at the very least – there are firm assurances that Cantref’s existing Welsh staff in Newcastle Emlyn will be retained.

This is clearly a ‘merger’ of the kind that took place between Nazi Germany and Poland, or between Communist China and Tibet . . . or between England and Wales.

That’s all for now but I shall be back next week with more on our housing associations, including RCT Homes and Pembrokeshire Housing and its ‘subsidiary’ Mill Bay Homes. And there will also certainly be more to report on Cantref and Wales and West.

UPDATE 23.04.2016: Here’s a press release put out by Mark James Carmarthenshire County Council expressing disappointment at being kicked in the nuts rejected by Kevin Taylor Cantref. I suspect this story has more twists and turns yet.

 

I Been Home, I Have. Tidy, It Was

As foretold in my previous post, I made a trip to Swansea over the weekend. Having grown disenamoured of Premier Inns the wife and I decided to try the Marriott Hotel overlooking the Marina, or the fish dock as I recall it from a long, long time ago.

Because in our early teens a crowd of us would cycle down to the fish dock in the evenings, and to the big fish merchants’ shed, open on three sides, its floor always covered in fish parts and ice, for some special cycling. Special because, in addition to the detritus covering the floor, the floor itself sloped gently towards the dock to make it easier for hosing said ice and fish parts into the dock. (An operation never fully completed.)

The idea was to build up speed from some distance away then see who could stay up on two wheels for the greatest distance inside the shed. If memory serves after more than 50 years, the champion was Dai Evans, who went on to join the Fleet Air Arm, and was lost when the helicopter in which he was an observer went down while searching for the Hull trawler / spyship M V Gaul.

I have no doubt that one day this exhilarating sport will be revived and take off. I look forward to seeing athletes from around the world slide across a sloping course covered in ice and cod innards competing for the Dai Evans Memorial Cup.

We arrived at the Marriott with these cherished memories fresh in my mind.

*

There was a parcel waiting for me in reception. It was a box of leaflets urging us to vote for Arfon Jones in May’s Police and Crime Commissioner election. Now I’m not entirely sure we need PCCs, but if we must have them then let’s have people who a) know and identify with the area, and b) understand how Gogplod and other forces work.

Arfon leaflet

After settling in to our room and reading Private Eye for a bit I felt the need for a nightcap or twa. So I sauntered down to the bar and ordered a large glass of Cabernet Sauvignon . . . which cost me £10.60! I shall repeat that – ten pounds bloody sixty. I thought to myself, ‘For that kind of money, Jones, you could get two bottles in the Co-op or Spar’. Listen Marriott, for a mediocre wine in a matchingly mediocre hotel, £10.60 is an absolute rip-off. As are your other prices. (Needless to say, for Saturday night I bought a bottle.)

As an aside . . . Someone told me something very odd about the Marriott hotel in Swansea (which I should have checked out). My source insists that it’s the wrong way round! By which he means that the side of the hotel overlooking the beach and the bay is taken up entirely with kitchens and other service areas, which means that despite being a stone’s throw from the beach no rooms offer sea views. If true, then someone screwed up big time.

*

Saturday morning we went down for our ‘Full Welsh Breakfast’, though when we got to the dining room and surveyed what was on offer it was difficult to see anything that qualified as being specifically Welsh, unless the sausages, eggs, bacon, etc., had been locally sourced.

More in hope than expectation I asked the woman restocking the self-service counter if there was any laverbread to be had. To my surprise she answered in the affirmative – but it was hidden away somewhere in the kitchen!

Listen up again, Marriott. You are advertising a ‘Full Welsh Breakfast’ – just a hoot and a holler from Swansea Market – yet the local delicacy is hidden away as if it’s something to be ashamed of!

Swansea caviar should be proudly displayed, with a card explaining that it cures everything from gout to impotence, and furthermore it reverses baldness when applied liberally to the scalp and left for a few weeks to work its magic.

*

Something I should have mentioned just now – and another reason I needed a drink on Friday night – was that I’d bought the Evening Post and there, on the front page, it shrieked – ‘RUCK’S BACK! Outspoken Columnist Makes His Return ‘.

Knowing you’d want to read the wit and wisdom of the now recovered Jools (our prayers were answered!) I brought the ‘paper home and scanned it for you. So read on . . . (And if you really do want to read it you’ll need to click on the image to open it in another window and then enlarge it.)

Jools

The hotel was busy on Saturday, what with the Norwich City squad staying there, a wedding reception, and various other comings and goings. We left the hustle and bustle behind to visit Cwmgelli cemetery where my parents and grandparents are buried to lay a Mother’s Day wreath before heading back into town and parking the car outside the hotel.

*

Now to the Liberty Stadium and the vital game against Norwich. I made the mistake of getting a bus from the Quadrant bus station, a mistake because it would have been quicker to bloody walk. Even so, I still managed to meet up with my son at 2:30 and in we went. Our seats were at the very front, right by the stairway, at pitch level, and very close to the visiting fans, who were in good voice.

To our left were the modern counterparts of the old Vetch Field North Bank crowd exchanging (relatively) good-natured banter with the visitors from East Anglia. I was a North Banker myself back in the days of Harry Griffiths and Herbie Williams, Keith Todd and Brian Evans, Lennie Allchurch and Jimmy McLaughlin. (No, missus, North Banker is not rhyming slang.)

I suppose that’s the big difference between live football and watching a game on the telly. The latter can show you almost everything, from every conceivable angle, it can run replays and offer analyses, but it cannot convey the atmosphere, it cannot show you what the fans are up to, or anything else happening away from the cameras, especially the small incidents that go unnoticed by almost everyone except those directly involved.

Sitting on a little stool in front of us, on the other side of the gate that gave access to the pitch area, was a steward of some kind, a single-minded jobsworth of a woman who clearly believed that The Three Hundred had it easy compared to her. Nor did her responsibilities end with guarding that gate. As one poor bugger found out.

A young guy sitting a few seats in from us went at half time to get refreshments and returned triumphant with a box of chips and a glass of beer. Christ! when the steward saw the beer she flipped. After haranguing him she quickly dispossessed him, and then, holding the beer solemnly at arm’s length, marched to a point where she could hand the offending liquid to another steward . . . who probably drank it.

The game itself was poor fare, but given the circumstances, a win was more important than entertainment. After Swans scored the only goal the Norwich fans fell relatively silent, perhaps resigned to watching Championship football next season. This of course was the Neo North Bankers cue to start up with, ‘It’s all gone quiet over there’.

As ever, a big disappointment was seeing the union flag that marks the location of the local fascist crew. These people are an embarrassment to the club and an insult to a city that only last month remembered the three-nights blitz of February 1941 that saw the Luftwaffe bomb Swansea, including the house my parents had rented, just six days after they’d got married.

Liberty fascists

Think about that. Their home town bombed by the air force controlled by the man they worship! I bet these bastards will be supporting England at Euro 2016 – even in the Wales v England game.

It will be interesting to see whether the British National Party they support puts up candidates for May’s Assembly elections or whether they’ll tell their people to vote Ukip.

At the final whistle my son shot off to get to his car and quickly out of town, leaving me to make my way the three miles back to the hotel. To begin with I was in a surge of a few thousand people all heading the same way, down through the Hafod neighbourhood, haunted by pubs I’d known that are no longer there – The Mexico Fountain, Jersey Arms, Hafod Inn . . .

The crowd gradually thinned out until I found myself by the Castle Gardens where some belated St. David’s Day event was packing up, and before I knew it I was alone and risking life and limb to cross Oystermouth Road.

*

Unsure where to eat on Saturday night, my first thought was the Uplands, reasoning that sophisticates like Councillor John Boy Bayliss and his friends must have attracted exciting eateries to the area. And so it appeared – everything from KFC to Vietnamese cuisine – as I drove around in a fruitless search for a parking space. ‘What the hell, let’s head for Mumbles’.

(Having mentioned John Boy gives me the excuse to digress for a mo. I hear that his mentor and former council leader, David ‘Il Duce‘ Phillips, is close to complete ostracisation from the local Labour Party. While it is further alleged that Phillips’ successor, Rob Stewart, may be no more than a figurehead, with the real power being wielded by the Anglo-Austrian Trotskyite duo Bob and Uta Clay, plus a few others they’ve gathered around them.)

And it came to pass that Mrs Jones and I found ourselves in the cheap but cheerful White Rose on Oystermouth Square. My first visit to this pub for many years.

The last time I was there I was resplendent in a very sharp powder blue suit, with a pink shirt and a blue striped tie. Perhaps selective amnesia spares me the memory of what shoes I wore. (Though yellow leather keeps flashing into my consciousness!) Anyway, I’m sure you can make your own suggestions as to what footwear might have best completed the ensemble. Or perhaps you’re still thinking, ‘Did he really say a powder blue suit!’

Whatever I might have been wearing I bumped into a guy I used to work with. His wife had just left him, so we drowned his sorrows and ended up back at his – now empty – house in Bishopston.

*

When we went down for breakfast on Sunday morning the woman at the breakfast bar remembered me and immediately went to get the laverbread. Breakfast was OK, and even enlivened by an incendiary incident.

The toaster had a sign nearby which said, ‘Only use pre-sliced bread in this toaster’. Fair enough. A Chinese family came in and the daughter – in her early twenties I’d guess – looked at the toaster, then cut a chunk off a French loaf and forced it into the horizontally aligned, conveyor belt-type toaster. I watched enthralled, and sure enough, the inevitable happened.

She must have realised what she’d done but our oriental visitor returned to her table as if nothing was wrong. It was left to public-spirited moi to alert staff once the flames started licking out the front of the machine.

Anyway, despite my little moans it was nice to have a few days in the city I love. I hope you’ve enjoyed my account of the visit.

*

I head back south on Wednesday for the funeral of an old friend and comrade. We’ll stay somewhere Wednesday night (but definitely not the bloody Marriott!) and come home late on Thursday. My daughter is home for the weekend on Friday, then it’s a rugby weekend, so don’t expect another post until next week . . . though I do have a few interesting irons in the fire.

In addition to those ‘irons’, I have just heard from Wynne Jones down in Cardigan that contractors employed by Mill Bay Homes – the properties-for-sale arm of Pembrokeshire Housing – has carried out unauthorised work and in so doing damaged culverts and raised the flood risk on adjoining land.

Having come to know Wynne Jones I can guarantee that Mill Bay’s latest show of contempt for planning procedures and disregard for the property of others will not pass unnoticed.

 

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’.

*

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

 

The ‘Care’ Racket in Wales

Let me make it clear at the outset what kind of ‘care’ I’m talking about. This is not the ‘care’ that involves helping old dears out of bed, making them breakfast, and listening – yet again – to how Uncle Arthur single-handedly won the Boer War. No, this is an entirely different kind of ‘caring’, one that most people are only vaguely aware of.

In addition, this post pulls together a few threads that might otherwise be left as loose ends. For example, in my enquiries into the housing associations operating in the south west I’ve come across puzzling references to the ‘Ceredigion Care Society’ or the ‘Pembrokeshire Care Society’, as you might expect, these references provided an incentive to make further enquiries,

Then there was the reliable source who told me last year about young tearaways turning up in Cardigan, with families in tow, being placed in temporary accommodation before moving on to something more permanent, provided by housing associations or private landlords. Few if any of these arrivals seemed to have pre-existing connections to Ceredigion, or to any other part of Wales.

Finally we have the housing crisis in Aberystwyth I referred to in this recent post. No, this is not a housing shortage, this is the exact opposite: student flats built at the very time the number of students applying to Aberystwyth University went into sharp decline, coupled with houses of multiple occupation in the town – many owned by men of fraternal tendencies – standing empty or under-occupied for the same lack of bright-eyed young things thirsting for knowledge.

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Perhaps the best way to start would be with a list of the various bodies using the ‘Care’ label that have operated in Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire in recent decades, some now defunct and one in the process of being wound up. After the name (containing link to website) you’ll see their Charity Commission number (with link to relevant CC page); date they were formed (and, where applicable, wound up); their company number (if applicable, also with link) and the date of Incorporation; finally, a link to the most recent available accounts.

  • The Dyfed Care Society, 506768, 22.09.1977 – 09.03.2000.
  • The Carmarthen Care Society, 508420, 05.02.1979 – 25.10.2001.
  • The Pembrokeshire Care Society (1), 508848, 18.06.1979 – 16.12.1996. 

The Cardiganshire / Ceredigion operation was clearly the earliest and its original remit was:

“1. The relief of poverty, the relief of sickness and the advancement of education and training amongst: A) Persons who have suffered a legal restriction on their liberty in the community, or any penal establishment or institution B) The families and descendants of such persons described in A) above C) Persons in need, hardship or distress.

2. The advancement of public education concerning all aspects of crime prevention.”

The Dyfed, Carmarthen and original Pembrokeshire societies used almost exactly the same wording. Telling us they were linked bodies helping ex-criminals . . . of whom there must be hundreds every year returning to the mean streets and gang life of Ystrad Meurig, Marloes and Ponterwyd.

Though I’m intrigued by the use of the word “descendants”. Does this mean that you could have demanded help if your great-great-great-great-grandfather was imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread? I also love the term “Persons who have suffered a legal restriction on their liberty”, there are just so many euphemisms for being banged up.

The Constitution for the Ceredigion Care Society seems to have been changed (24.09.1999) and under ‘Activities’ on its Charity Commission page it now says, “PROVIDES HUMAN RESOURCES PROVIDES HOUSING SUPPORT PROVIDE INCREASED HOUSING OPTIONS TO THOSE THREATENED WITH HOMELESSNESS ADVOCACY”. I don’t know whether this is just unpunctuated or an attempt at shouted stream of consciousness. Either way, this change of emphasis brings it into line with the Pembrokeshire Care Society. The concern is no longer for ex-cons but the ‘homeless’ and others it can be claimed are in need of accommodation.

As I’ve said, the Ceredigion Care Society is currently being wound up in favour of  Cymdeithas Gofal The Care Society. Though this successor body is no longer restricted to Ceredigion as it claims to be operating in Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and even Powys.

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As you will have noticed above, the Pembrokeshire Care Society and Cymdeithas Gofal are also limited companies, with the trustees serving as directors. The Pembrokeshire outfit is headquartered in Haverfordwest, conveniently near to Pembrokeshire Housing. Here’s a link to the most recent Annual Return received by Companies House, listing the eight current directors. (While the Companies House form offers the option of giving Welsh as one’s nationality, all describe themselves as ‘British’.)

And here’s the latest Annual Return for Cymdeithas Gofal, based at 18 Chalybeate Street in Aberystwyth, but also owning or leasing 26 Cambrian Street (night shelter) and 21 Terrace Road. (The situation at Cymdeithas Gofal is not much better, with a distinctly English-looking board saved by what could be seen as a token Welshman in the form of Y Parchedig Cen Llwyd.)

And here are the most recent accounts. For Cymdeithas Gofal and Pembrokeshire Care Society. So what do they tell us? Let’s look at Pembrokeshire first. With charity accounts I tend to cut to the chase to see a) where the money comes from, and b) where it goes.

We see that £308,279 came from the ‘Supporting People Programme‘ administered by the ‘Welsh’ Government. It’s worth remembering that ‘vulnerable people’ as used in this context can mean “persons who have suffered a legal restriction on their liberty”, drug addicts, alcoholics, those who find themselves ‘homeless’ after being evicted from their previous home, and others you might not want as neighbours.

Update 22:48: I am indebted to Jacqui Thompson for guiding me to this report on the shambles in administering the Supporting People grant in neighbouring Carmarthenshire.

The other major source of income – accounting for £224,020 – is listed as “Advice, Pathway Letting & Bond Scheme”, which was new to me. However, I soon found Pathway Lettings . . . “Part of Pembrokeshire Care Society”!

Pathway Lettings

Seeing as this is ‘Welsh’ Government funding the next stop was obviously the website for that shower, where I found no reference to Pathway Lettings. Which was all very confusing until I scrolled further down in the accounts and found (top of page 15) a reference to ‘WG PATH’, clearly a reference to something, again linking to the ‘Welsh’ Government, but what, exactly?

PATH

Googling ‘PATH homelessness’ took me first across the Atlantic, where it is the acronym for Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness, a federal programme designed to help those who are homeless and suffer severe mental issues. This seemed to fit the bill, but to confuse the picture the Pembrokeshire Care Society has in the past been known by the acronyms PASH and PATH, explained in the panel below.

Pembrokeshire Path

So what exactly is Pembrokeshire Action for The (sic) Homeless? Googling the name takes us straight to the Pembrokeshire Care Society. So despite the hype about a ‘forum’ it’s little more than another name for the Pembrokeshire Care Society.

Then it struck me that much of the funding involved here could be in the form of the “Bond Scheme” referred to, and sure enough, under the ‘Services‘ tab on the Pembrokeshire Care website I found this.

Bond certificate

And on the Pathway Lettings Home page you’ll find this, which at least acknowledges the support of the ‘Welsh’ Government.

Pembrokeshire bond scheme

All of which poses a number of questions:

  • How much homelessness is there in Pembrokeshire to justify this funding?
  • Are there figures available on homelessness in Pembrokeshire from a body independent of the Pembrokeshire Care Society?
  • Isn’t there an incentive for organisations being funded to combat homeless (or anything else) to exaggerate the scale of the problem in order to secure more funding?
  • In pursuit of that objective an obvious route to more funding is to ‘import’ homeless people from outside of Wales. Were this to be happening, what response – if any – could we expect from the ‘Welsh’ Government?
  • Why is the ‘Welsh’ Government giving funding to a “Social Lettings Agency”, Pathway Lettings, rather than to the Pembrokeshire Care Society? Is it to disguise the ultimate destination of the money? If not, why are we paying for an extra and unnecessary layer of bureaucracy? Or is the ‘Welsh’ Government funding the Pembrokeshire Care Society’s empire building?
  • Why can’t we have a body independent of the ‘Welsh’ Government and the Notional Assembly to monitor how public funding is spent in Wales?

Just one final thing that caught my eye in the Pembrokeshire Care Society accounts, under the heading ‘Designated Funds’ (page 19), was the figure of £100,000 for ‘Senior Management Succession Planning’. What the hell is that about!

Reassuring, I suppose, in that it suggests that if there’s that much money available for such a purpose then the homelessness situation in Pembrokeshire can’t be that bad.

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Moving on now to the accounts for the ever-expanding Cymdeithas Gofal The Care Society. As with Pembrokeshire Care, we see that over half of the money received is spent on salaries and pensions, a reminder that charities like this provide good jobs for those ‘on the inside’ and those they know.

The Cymdeithas Gofal accounts were certainly easier to follow than the Pembrokeshire Care accounts, and different in many ways. For example, the Bond Scheme accounts for only a very small proportion of the income and I was initially surprised to see no reference to the Supporting People Programme that is Pembrokeshire Care’s most valuable source of income. (I also found it odd, five years after the 2011 referendum, to see Cymdeithas Gofal, despite its Welsh pretensions, still referring to the ‘Welsh Assembly Government’.)

Then I saw the entry ‘Ceredigion County Council – supporting’. I went to the council website for confirmation. So why is this funding administered on behalf of the ‘Welsh’ Government by the local authority in Ceredigion but given direct to the charity in Pembrokeshire?

Cymdeitas Gofal Incoming Resources

In fairness, Cymdeithas Gofal does raise some of its own money. Of its total income of £1,152,457 for y/e 31.03.2015, as shown in the panel below (from page 12 of the accounts) £427,898 is not in the form of direct grant funding. After the various grants, totalling £724,559, the most rewarding income stream is ‘Rents receivable’. This is, presumably, rents received for accommodation in the buildings Cymdeithas Gofal has bought, with public funding? If so, who holds the deeds on these properties, and if they aren’t in public ownership, shouldn’t they be?

Cymdeithas Gofal Incoming Total

One major source of funding we did not encounter in Pembrokeshire is the £175,408 ‘Welsh Assembly Government S180 Night Shelter Funding. (This page provides a link to further information on S180.) As I’ve mentioned above, this night shelter is at 26 Cambrian Street. Though if it’s been running since 2002 – as this clip from the Cambrian News tells us – why did the ‘Welsh’ Government need to dish out 175 grand last year, which may be more than a terraced house in the centre of Aber’ is even worth?

On the plus side, there is no six-figure sum allocated by Cymdeithas Gofal for ‘Senior Management Succession Planning’. So that’s something to be thankful for, eh?

My original thought when I approached this subject was that Cymdeithas Gofal was gradually taking over the south west, and that Pembrokeshire Care would be the next to go. But the more I’ve learnt about their relationship I now see something more  subtle and complex at work. Maybe I watch too many Mafia movies and TV series, but it looks like the rackets have been carved up in a way that satisfies both parties. (‘Yous can have construction an’ we’ll take da Teamsters. Capice?)

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Many of these Care societies’ clients of course move on to become tenants of the local housing associations, to justify more funding for housing associations, which clears up one loose end. Then there’s the young tearaways from God knows where turning up at some kind of ‘halfway house’ in Aberteifi, a border town where both organisations operate and where Cymdeithas Gofal has a £34,000 a year ‘Young Persons Project’. Finally, the housing problem in Aberystwyth, well, just think about, those empty student flats have to be filled somehow. See how it all fits neatly together!

The growth of the Third Sector in Wales was inevitable given that the only political parties (other than the Lib Dems) that have ever been in power down Cardiff docks are statist, anti-business parties. These parties – Labour and Plaid Cymru – are devoid of ideas when it comes to creating wealth, but their imagination knows no bounds when it comes to spending money. With this hostility to ‘nasty’ business comes the inevitable impulse to help those they view as the victims of a heartless capitalist system.

This ‘Throwing money around like a drunken sailor’, as my mamgu used to say (no offence intended to partying mariners), has been brought home to us this week with two cases that saw tens of millions of pounds of public money needlessly expended or lost. The first being the land deal on the outskirts of Cardiff and the other the purchase of Cardiff airport. Though in defence of the ‘Welsh’ Government let me state that the figures involved here are peanuts compared to what has been wasted in Cardiff since the dawn of devolution.

Cymdeith Gofal Objectives

The waste of public funding we have seen in Wales since 1999 could not have happened if the sham devolution we suffer had not brought together an unholy triumvirate to work against Welsh interests.

First we have the aforementioned politicians of the Left, believing that ‘helping those in need’ (even if they’ve been dumped on you) is the right thing to do; then we have the politicians of the Right, who will oppose anything that might disadvantage England, unconcerned that their position invariably disadvantages Wales; and finally, we have civil servants answering to London but ostensibly serving as ‘advisers’ to ‘Welsh’ Government ministers. (Though it should be understood that many politicians on the Left will also adopt an anti-Welsh position, and defend it by arguing that to do otherwise would be ‘narrow’, ‘insular’, ‘nationalistic’ or ‘racist’.)

The only way to change this is to reject all of the existing parties because none of them has either the capability or the will to curb the wasting of hundreds of millions of pounds every year on professional grant-grabbers – most of whom seem to originate outside of Wales – who exaggerate or import problems in order to keep themselves in cosy, well-pensioned jobs funded entirely by the Welsh public purse.

Wales needs a political revolution to overthrow the fools who fund the shysters and those who turn a blind eye because this system damages a country for which they have no real love, a country whose integration with England they will not oppose. Our country.

Mill Bay Homes, Tai Ceredigion, Answers Needed

Last month, in Social Housing, Time to End This Lunacy, I looked at social housing provider Pembrokeshire Housing and, more specifically, its subsidiary Mill Bay Homes.

Mill Bay Homes justifies its existence by arguing that it builds and sells properties on the open market to raise funds that allow Pembrokeshire Housing to build more social housing. But we only have its word for that because being a ‘subsidiary’ organisation means that no one, certainly not those funding Pembrokeshire Housing – i.e. the ‘Welsh’ Government – will ever make enquiries into the activities of Mill Bay. A worrying phenomenon I have encountered many times before in investigating the Third Sector.

Mill Bay Help to Buy
Mill Bay Homes offers Help to Buy – Wales

Another curious feature of Mill Bay Homes mentioned in my earlier post is that it offers buyers assistance under the Help to Buy – Wales scheme while also encouraging the “Investment buyer“. Helping people buy their own home while simultaneously encouraging those who deny people their own home might be regarded as somewhat contradictory aims. And it raises the obvious question – is it the job of publicly-funded housing associations – even via ‘subsidiaries’ – to be encouraging ‘investors’ in rural areas where locals have such difficulty in finding homes?

One specific Mill Bay Homes development looked at was in Cilgerran, north Pembrokeshire. There, according to the planning application form available on the Pembrokeshire council website, Mill Bay wants to build 30 social rented housing units.

Mill Bay 1
‘BEFORE’ (Thanks to Wynne Jones)

Or at least, that’s what the planning application said when I published my original post on December 14th, but, remarkably – and here I am once again indebted to the indefatigable Wynne Jones – this planning application has since been changed. The original version can be found above, the amended version below. The latter now reads 29 open market houses and just one unit of social housing, a two-bedroom house. There is no indication of when or why the change was made. And it must be worth asking if it’s permissible to make such radical changes to a planning application already submitted?

Mill Bay 2
‘AFTER’ (Thanks to Wynne Jones)

What’s going on here? Was a genuine mistake made with the original application, and is this now being rectified? Or was the change in response to the piece I posted on December 14th? Presumably the change was made by an employee of Pembrokeshire council, but it must have been requested by someone acting for Mill Bay Homes or Pembrokeshire Housing. Again, is this allowed?

Perhaps the most disturbing possibility is that the original planning application, for 30 social housing units, was an attempt to deceive, done in the belief that planning permission would be more likely to be granted for social housing. (See Update below.)

Between April 2008 and November 2015 Pembrokeshire Housing received £27.4m of our money in Social Housing Grant (see table below). Prior to that the SHG seems to have been allocated to local authorities, and between 2000 and 2008 the county of Pembrokeshire received £31.6m. See these figures for yourself (in Excel format) here. You might also find it worthwhile reading Housing Associations – The Great Deception in which I explain that there are other methods of funding social housing.

SHG 2008 - (Nov) 2015
Feel free to use this table but please attribute source

Another curiosity unearthed by Wynne Jones is to be found in the guide to planning applications issued by Pembrokeshire council. Open the document at section 18, which reads: “Social rented – includes rented housing owned by local authorities and registered social landlords for which guideline target rents are determined through the national rent regime, set out in the ‘Guide to Social Rent Reforms’ published in March 2001. Also includes rented housing owned by other persons and provided under equivalent rental arrangements to the above, as agreed with the local authority or funded with grant from the Housing Corporation, as provided for in the Housing Act 2004.

The format of this guide seems to be dictated by the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, and appears to have been updated here and there with references to subsequent legislation applying only to Wales. Which makes it a bit of a dog’s dinner. Surely, after 17 years of devolution we should be using specifically Welsh forms? If only to avoid references such as that in section 18 to the Housing Corporation, an England-only body . . . abolished in 2008.

Mill Bay Investors
From Mill Bay Homes website

Perhaps of more significance for our enquiry is the section I’ve underlined, in which I interpret “other persons” to mean privately-owned properties used as social housing. So does this explain why Mill Bay Homes, a subsidiary of a Registered Social Landlord, is encouraging investors? Is Mill Bay offering the properties they build to investors with the guarantee that Pembrokeshire Housing will supply the tenants?

There are just so many questions to be answered about the operation of Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes, also other housing associations and their unaccountable subsidiaries, because they take such a huge chunk out of a total Welsh budget of only some £15bn per annum.

Another disturbing case unearthed by Wynne Jones is upstream of Cilgerran, at Cenarth. There, Tai Ceredigion put in a planning application for 15 social housing units at Maes Awmor. There was considerable opposition from those already living in an adjacent private estate on grounds of increased traffic and a belief that locals would be low on Tai Ceredigion’s allocation list.

Help to Buy
From ‘Welsh’ Government’s Help to Buy – Wales Buyers’ guide

This latter concern might be explained by looking at the plans and seeing how many of these properties are designed for those with special needs. (Click here and enlarge.) Is there really a demand for so many such properties from within this rural area? Or has Tai Ceredigion done a lucrative deal with an English local authority or some other agency that will pay well to move people to Wales? As I say, such a deal would be lucrative for Tai Ceredigion, but could only put further strain on the Welsh NHS. But maybe I’m being cynical, so let Tai Ceredigion convince us that there is a demand for these properties from within the local population.

Perhaps we should be flattered by how many agencies in England believe in the therapeutic and reforming qualities of Welsh country air. It seems that once relocated to Wales the elderly cease to wrinkle and the obese become obsessive joggers, ‘disaffected’ youngsters join the Boy Scouts and criminals transform into model citizens, drug addicts get their highs from watching Hinterland and former problem families can be seen every Sunday trooping to the Tabernacle of the Happy Clappy Outsourcing Agents for Local Authorities Ltd . . .

Then again, this belief in Welsh country air could be nothing more than cynically dumping your problems on your neighbour. But that would at least be understandable, what is neither understandable nor acceptable, is that there are those within Wales co-operating in this scam – and that they are able to use Welsh public funding to do it! 

Cenarth housing
Maes Awmor, Cenarth. The Tai Ceredigion development is planned for the land in the foreground

The latest news from Cenarth (December 14, 2015) is that six of the properties are now to be sold on the open market. But planning permission was granted for 15 social housing units. And Tai Ceredigion is a Registered Social Landlord, it cannot build houses for sale to the highest bidder. What the hell is going on?

Here are some questions for the ‘Welsh’ Government. These questions are not in any way rhetorical, I really would appreciate some answers. Because what’s been reported here, from Duffryn Teifi, is happening all over the country.

  • We can safely assume that money given to Pembrokeshire Housing to provide social rented accommodation has reached its subsidiary, Mill Bay Homes, so how does the ‘Welsh’ Government feel about public funding being used to build new properties for sale to ‘investors’?
  • Given that Mill Bay Homes on its website advertises the Help to Buy – Wales scheme and also encourages ‘investors’, what guarantees can the ‘Welsh’ Government give us that no ‘investors’ have secured Help to Buy funding? (To answer this will require a thorough, forensic and, most importantly, independent, investigation into the workings of Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes.)
  • With its use of terms such as “lifestyle” and “retirement” it would appear that Mill Bay Homes is targeting buyers from outside of Wales. Is the ‘Welsh’ Government comfortable with funding it has provided to Pembrokeshire Housing being used by Mill Bay Homes to further the colonisation and anglicisation of rural Wales?
  • Turning to the development at Cenarth, many of these properties have wheelchair access and are in other ways adapted for the disabled, adaptations that are expensive to design and construct. So will the ‘Welsh’ Government confirm that these properties are to meet a local demand rather than being the result of a deal or understanding struck between Tai Ceredigion and agencies outside of Wales?
  • If publicly-funded housing associations are allowed to build open market properties, placing them in direct competition with local companies not enjoying public funding, then, quite clearly, they have an unfair advantage over those local companies. Is this another example of the ‘Welsh’ Labour Party’s hostility to private business, and perhaps, more generally, the countryside?
  • Finally, how many tens of millions of pounds does the ‘Welsh’ Government estimate could be saved every year by a) reducing the number of housing associations, b) properly monitoring their spending, and c) implementing a three-year local residency rule to qualify for social housing?

UPDATE 7pm, 04.01.2016: Received the message below in a comment. I am now happy to accept that the original Cilgerran planning application was a simple slip of the pen or the cursor on the part of whoever filled in the form. Though if that is what happened, why didn’t the planning application change from 30 social housing units to 30 private dwellings, rather than to 29 private and one social? Something I did not mention in my original post is that Trevor Hopkins Associates is also involved with the Tai Ceredigion project at Cenarth.

Dear Sir,

I refer to the content posted on your web page/twitter account regarding the Planning Application we submitted on behalf of Mill Bay Homes for 30 dwellings on Land Adjacent Holly Lodge, Cilgerran. The reference to Social Housing on the Planning Form was an error on our part and this has now been corrected to open market dwellings. The modified forms are available to view on the Planning Portal.

I trust you will now update your social media/website accordingly.

Yours faithfully.

Trevor Hopkins Associates.

UPDATE 06.01.2016: Even though planning permission has not yet been granted for the Cilgerran development this sign was erected this morning. Making it look as if Pembrokeshire County Council has already agreed to grant planning permission and has also decided to disregard in advance the objections from local residents that will follow the granting of planning permission. So much for local democracy!

Mill Bay sign

Social Housing, Time to End This Lunacy

I have written many times about the national disaster that passes for a housing strategy in our rural areas, a ‘strategy’ that sees private properties built for which there is no local demand, or at prices most of us can’t afford, while in the social sector we have an allocations system that ensures just about anyone qualifies ahead of locals. Quite recently, thanks to the indefatigable Wynne Jones, I have become acquainted with yet another cause for concern, one that would boggle a mind less inured to the lunacies of devolved Wales.

This particular example comes from Pembrokeshire, and the cause for concern is Mill Bay Homes, a subsidiary of Pembrokeshire Housing. Or at least, that’s what it says on the Mill Bay Homes website, but there’s no mention of Mill Bay Homes on the Pembrokeshire Housing website. But as they share the same address in Haverfordwest we must assume they are known to each other.

If we go to this page on the Mill Bay Homes website we see that this subsidiary of the Pembrokeshire Housing Association Ltd operates no different to a private company in that it builds and sells property using the justification that it is “a business with a social purpose” because the money it makes will be invested in social housing built by the parent company.

Mill Bay Help to Buy

Elsewhere on the Mill Bay website you will see the image reproduced above, so what is the Help to Buy – Wales scheme? Quite simply, it’s the local variant of a UK-wide programme to boost the building trade by helping prospective house buyers. A buyer needs to contribute only 5% of the purchase price, the ‘Welsh’ Government will then give a shared-equity loan of 20% if the purchaser can find an acceptable mortgage lender for the remaining 75%. An excellent idea, surely?

Certainly, and it gets even better when we open the ‘Welsh’ Government’s Help to Buy publication and scroll down to page six, where, in the right-hand column, we read, “The property purchased must be your only residence. Help to Buy – Wales is not available to assist buy–to–let investors or those who will own any property other than their Help to Buy – Wales property after completing their purchase”. (My emphasis.)

Yet despite the programme’s ban on those hoping to use public funding for private investment the Mill Bay Homes website actually encourages the “Investment Buyer”. (See panel below.) How can Mill Bay Homes offer investment buyers access to a scheme that specifically bars them! No doubt Mill Bay Homes would tell us that it differentiates between investors and owner-occupiers, and that Help to Buy is only offered to the former . . . but nowhere on its website does it say this.

*

I’ve already said that Help to Buy is a UK-wide scheme overseen in Wales by the ‘Welsh’ Government, but I wasn’t sure who actually implements it, who dishes out the lucre as it were. So I made some enquiries. The money is disbursed by Help To Buy (Wales) Ltd, company number 08708403, Incorporated 28.09.2013, and based at 1 Capital Quarter, Tyndall Street, Cardiff CF10 4BZ.

Help To Buy (Wales) Ltd has share capital of £1 held by Finance Wales Plc with the Ultimate Parent Company given as “Welsh Ministers”. Welsh Ministers! Does that refer to a vestryful of nonconformist divines or those buffoons down Cardiff docks? Unfortunately, it means the latter.

The three directors of Help To Buy (Wales) Ltd are Dr David James Staziker, Mr Kevin Patrick O’Leary and Mr Michael Owen. A fourth director, Ms Siân Lloyd Jones, resigned on September 30th. They are also directors of FW Capital Ltd (07078439), and North West Loans Ltd (07397297). In addition, there is FW Development Capital (North West) GP Ltd (08355233). All share the Help To Buy address and all link back to ‘Welsh Ministers’. In fact, there are lots of companies linked to Finance Wales Plc and O’Leary, Owen and Jones seem to have been directors of most of them.

Help to Buy 1

Why so many companies, and who are Staziker, O’Leary and Owen? Are they civil servants who (for the sake of public consumption) are answerable to the ‘Welsh’ Government or are they businesspeople or professionals employed by the ‘Welsh’ Government? Either way, what power do these people have to ensure that millions and millions of pounds of our money is properly spent? And if they simply dole out the money, then who does ensure that it’s properly spent?

*

I can see the Help to Buy scheme working just fine in England, and Scotland, and also in our towns and cities, though in our rural areas it risks exacerbating the problem I have discussed countless times, and that’s because anyone from anywhere can apply to the Help to Buy Scheme to purchase a new property in a Welsh town or village. No local connection is required.

This refusal on the part of the ‘Welsh’ Labour ‘Government’ in Cardiff docks to prioritise Welsh interests almost certainly explains the planning application for 30 new properties in Cilgerran, north Pembrokeshire, submitted by Mill Bay Homes Ltd. Here’s the planning application, I suggest you keep it open in another window or browser so that you can refer to it as I go along.

You will see – in Section 3 – that the application is for planning consent for 8 x 3-bed detached houses, 12 x 3-bed semi-detached houses, and 10 x 2-bed semi-detached houses. Scroll down to Section 18 and you will see that all thirty dwellings are described as “Social Rented Housing”. Which is odd seeing as this planning application was submitted by Mill Bay Housing, which only builds to sell, even inviting investors.

Something else worth remarking on is that in my experience very few detached three-bedroom houses are built for the social rental sector. Oh, and one other thing . . . Pembrokeshire Housing offers a Welsh version of its website, whereas Mill Bay Homes is strictly English only.

Cilgerran

For those who don’t know Cilgerran, it’s a pleasant, scenic village upriver from Cardigan. In 1931 94% of the population of Cilgerran parish was Welsh speaking, today it’s below 50%, for the usual reason: economic decline disguised with the kind of tourism that does little for locals but encourages their replacement with a wealthier stratum of good-lifers, retirees, fleece jacket fascists and others drawn by the area’s physical and scenic attractions, an immigrant population having no regard for the area’s cultural heritage and national identity.

Though perhaps the major question is, why has Mill Bay Homes, a company that on its own website is described as specialising “in the development and sale of homes suited to the lifestyles of customers who range from those buying for the first time through to those looking to downsize or retire” now put in a planning application for rented social housing?

It could be that the answer lies with the use of words such as “lifestyles”, “downsizing” and “retire”. For they sound very odd if these properties are being built for locals to rent, but they’re just the kind of sales pitch I’d expect to see used if the Cilgerran development is targeting buyers from over the border.

So what is the truth about this Cilgerran development and Mill Bay Homes? I think we’re entitled to answers. Maybe the ‘Welsh Ministers’ or the troika named above can assure us that the operations of Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes are above board, and that our generosity isn’t being abused.

Specifically: Has Mill Bay Homes helped ‘investors’ access the Help to Buy scheme? Is public money being used to build properties in Cilgerran described as social housing but intended to be sold on the open market?

*

The relationship between Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes is one I have expressed concerns about before. (Here’s one example.) It sees a body in receipt of large amounts of public funding set up a subsidiary that operates in a way that is either difficult to track, or else in a manner barred to the parent body. The relationship is too often opaque and offers no guarantee that public funding to the parent body is not channelled to the unregulated and unaudited (by funders) subsidiary.

This is what we appear to have with Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes. Even though the latter piously claims that its “earnings will be covenanted to the parent company (Pembrokeshire Housing) for the express purpose of re-investment in the social housing development programme in Pembrokeshire” we have no guarantee of that, because Mill Bay Homes does not receive direct public funding it is not audited.

This parent and subsidiary arrangement should not be allowed where the parent body is in receipt of public funding unless the subsidiaries are covered by the same regulations and checks as the parent body. Ask yourself this, ‘How did Mill Bay Homes build its first properties? Was it with money given by Pembrokeshire Housing? And was that start-up money funding that the parent company had received in ‘Welsh’ Government grants? If so, who authorised this generosity?

In the wider context we now see a social housing sector that is costing Wales hundreds of millions of pounds every year for very little return. The reasons for this unsustainable situation are clear.

We have far too many housing associations. All paying inflated salaries and pension packages to their senior staff. Those same executives, understanding the dog-eat-dog world they inhabit, and fearful of being swallowed up by a rival, believe they must grow to survive, which inevitably results in increased levels of speculative building unrelated to local need. But don’t worry – it’s only public money! And Wales can afford it.