Once upon a time . . . in a big city in Englandland lived four friends, Jacqui, Jenni, Jimmi and Maximilian. They’d been friends since they’d first met, some ten years earlier, at Lowestoft University (formerly Suffolk Fish-boners’ Polytechnic). They weren’t happy in the big city. For one thing, they didn’t like the work they did, nor the people they worked for . . . or even the people they worked with. What they really wanted was to work for themselves and to live somewhere nice, perhaps in the country.
One Friday evening, the four friends were having a candle-lit dinner in Jimmi’s basement flat and, just before Jimmi opened another bottle of Lidl’s famed Afghan red wine (‘£2.99 for 3! This month only!’), Jenni piped up with, “Do you remember Primrose . . . was in college with us . . . real swot, got a 2/2?” The question got a mixed response, but undeterred Jenni went on, “Well, she runs some charity or something, down in Wales, catering for trans-sexual trawler men. I was thinking we might do something like that.” This information was greeted with a more interested response, and it was Maximilian who articulated the thoughts of the other two, “Sounds good, but . . . Wales!” “Yes”, answered Jenni, “It’s not that bad, honestly. Let me explain”. And she went on.
“You see, the way Primrose explained it to me there’s oodles of money being dished out in Wales to anybody who can come up with the right idea. What you have to do is find a ‘niche market’ that no one else has thought of. Once you’ve identified it, and set up your group, you apply for the grants.” “Like trans-sexual trawler men, you mean?” interjected Jimmi. “Exactly”, she replied, “We’d be working for ourselves; and it wouldn’t be like running a real business . . . y’know, capitalism and all that . . . ripping people off, taking money for nothing. We’d be helping people . . . wouldn’t we?” The others nodded thoughtfully.
“The other thing Primrose said was that Labour Party connections help. Well, Max is a member . . . and we’ve all helped out in some way or another over the years. I mean, we share the values, right?” Jimmi gave a half-hearted clenched fist salute before contributing, “Yeah, this could work. But how do we identify a niche market?” There was a silence for a moment before Jacqui – who up until then had been under the table doing something – patted her hair into place and made her contribution.“There must be a list somewhere of all the groups currently being funded, so we avoid these and think up something really imaginative that’s not on the list. Simples!” This met with general approval, and it was decided that Jenni should make a trip to Wales to learn more from Primrose, do a little networking, and get the lie of the land.
So off Jenni went to Wales. Rather than travel all the way to Pembrokeshire – where Primrose had her ‘Mission’ for sexually confused net yankers – they had decided to meet in Swansea. Primrose was waiting on the platform, excitedly waving her Andean recycled llama wool scarf as the train pulled in. They hugged and kissed effusively, attracting much attention. Then, as they gaily waltzed out of the station, they were confronted by the harsh realities of modern Wales . . . in the form of a foul-smelling beggar shouting, “Gis a tenner for a cuppa, you slag!” They both moved quickly away from her, and as they pulled away saw many others of the same type, drinking from bottles, fighting, urinating and generally making mayhem. They jumped into the nearest taxi and sped off to an agreeable little bistro down Mumbles.
Once safely ensconced at a table overlooking the bay, and waiting for their Indian filter coffee to arrive, Jenni felt safe enough to ask, “What the hell was that all about up at the station?” Primrose grimaced before explaining. “Well, thing is . . . homelessness is something of a cottage industry in Swansea. The way it works, right . . . you argue that there’s many homeless people in the city, so you get funding . . . then – and this is the clever bit – you make Swansea attractive to homeless people from all over the place. Bingo! More homeless equals more funding; more funding attracts more homeless; which then results in more funding. It’s what we in the Third Sector call a virtuous circle.
“Now a few more things to remember. First, get to know your local Labour councillors and officials. Second, make sure you put ‘Cymru’ (it means ‘Wales’) in the name of your organisation. Third, employ somebody with a Welsh accent to answer the phone, maybe give the odd interview (otherwise certain people will try to undermine the good work we’re doing). Fourth, identify a disadvantaged group that didn’t even realise it was a group (let alone that it was disadvantaged), then start a campaign saying how this group is losing out. Fifth, finally, and most importantly! don’t ever succeed in solving the problem you’re being funded to deal with. Because if you do that, the funding stops and you join the ranks of the unemployed”.
The following Friday it was dinner again at Jimmi’s. Jenni explained what she’d learnt in Wales and the discussion was soon in full swing. All sorts of ideas were aired for the new group – someone wondered if gay and lesbian ramblers were catered for. Or could they get funding for bar staff to get breast implants. (Or was that sexist?) Jenni reminded the others that ‘Helping people back into employment’ was a very popular area for funding, but all possible angles seemed covered: black and ethnic minorities, battered wives, east Europeans, defrocked vicars, etc. There was even a group in Cardiff getting funding to help find employment for Vietnamese waiters with speech impediments – of whom there were two! (Possibly one, if the European-looking one is in fact – as many suspect – named Evans, and comes from Brecon.) It was then that Maximilian had his moment of inspiration. “Wait! I’ve just thought of a group not covered in all these lists we’ve been looking at. How about – wait for it! – holistic car mechanics? Instead of all those spanners and stuff, we train car mechanics to repair cars holistically. What about that?” The others looked nonplussed to begin with but their faces changed as they gave the idea more thought. Eventually it was enthusiastically agreed (even by Jacqui under the table). They would set up the Holistic Car Mechanics’ Co-operative Cymru and unveil it after meeting with the local Labour hierarchy in Cwmscwt, with whom they had made initial contact, Cwmscwt being where they had decided to set up base camp.
And lo! it came to pass. The founders of HCMCC changed trains in Cardiff and soon arrived in Cwmscwt, with its long rows of terraced houses climbing up the sides of the valley. It was raining. They looked for a taxi outside the station, but all they could see was a burnt-out car and a few supermarket trolleys in only slightly better condition. So they trudged up the hill to their guest house. After freshening up, they went down for tea. They were greeted by the proprietrix, Mrs Lucrezia Leyshon who, after scanning the signing-in book, felt confident enough to suggest, “From away, are ew?” Not entirely sure how to respond, they simply nodded. In a desperate attempt at conversation Jimmi informed Mrs Leyshon that in a couple of hours they would be in the Labour Club meeting with Councillor Josef S. Lloyd. This seemed to leave the good woman unimpressed, for after extracting another bogie, and flicking it at the cat, merely responded with, “Mmm . . . I yeard ʼe was out.” Unsure what to make of this remark, or indeed, what to make of the taciturn Mrs Leyshon, the group tucked in to their guinea pig and cockle pie with feigned gusto.
It was still raining as they walked up the hill towards the Lord Tonypandy Memorial Labour Club. The proud banner fluttering above the building carried the inspiring motto – ‘It’s Always Somebody Else’s Fault’. Upon enquiring at the bar they learnt that Councillor Lloyd was waiting for them in the committee room, along with a couple of other local party officials. As the representatives of HCMCC made their way across the large bar area towards the committee room they couldn’t help but feel the many eyes (some in working pairs) scrutinising them. For the lack of scar tissue and the full complements of natural teeth betrayed them as strangers, as did the four unbroken noses.
They reached the door of the committee room unmolested, though not without many ribald and sexually explicit remarks being directed at the women. (Jimmi and Max certainly hoped they were directed at the women.) They knocked on the door, and were invited in. Seated at a table before them were, in the centre, a large man with a bulbous nose and a curiously shaped ear; to his right, an even larger man bearing a number of tattoos and other adornments; and on the other side, a skinny, rather gormless looking youth with a lazy eye. The man in the centre spoke: “I am Councillor Lloyd; this gentleman on my right is David, our branch secretary, and this young man on my left, is Klarence . . . um, my, er (clearing his throat), sister’s boy. Now then, ʼow can we ʼelp ew?”
The four missionaries explained their plan to use holistic car mechanics as a means of encouraging local youths to take responsibility for their lives; to lay off the drugs and the booze, to desist from thieving, impregnating the local females, and in other ways blighting society. (Though it should be said that most local youths would have thought that, far from blighting society, the activities listed were all that gave meaning to their otherwise empty lives.) All the while Councillor Lloyd nodded sagely, “I loves it, I loves it! ʼOlistic car mechanics. Nobody’s thought of that scam before . . . scheme! I meant to say scheme. I can’t see no problem” the local worthy continued. “Sounds just the kind uh thing they loves to fund. We’ll be ‘appy to join ewer organisation”. The four were not sure how to take this last remark, so it fell to Maximilian to ask, “How do you mean, ‘join’? What exactly will you be doing in our organisation?” Before Maximilian could continue Councillor Lloyd was on his feet . . .
After a pause that took in a quizzical, even pitying look at the putative Board of HCMCC, he continued: “Ew don’ understand ʼow it works, do ew? Le’ me spell it out. Ew people comes ʼere lookin’ to get ew ʼands on funding. Fair enough! We controls the fundin’. People like me puts in a good word, ew gets ew fundin’. In return, ew shows ew gratitude by puttin’ me on the books . . . and Dai by here, and Klarence. Ew scratches our backs, we scratches ewers. Tidy!” Slowly it dawned on our four ingénues that they were lumbered with Josef Stalin Lloyd, his minder, and his nephew. (Klarence was by now making Jacqui slightly uneasy. He was staring at her and drooling but she couldn’t be sure if he was also winking because of the eye.)
And so it came to pass that the Holistic Car Mechanics Co-operative Cymru received £2.3 million in EU Structural Funds and – because it was such an “imaginative scheme” (local Labour AM) and a worthwhile idea – another £750,000 from one of the Welsh Government’s own funds. Councillor Lloyd was paid a fee for ‘advisory services’, but these ‘on book’ figures made no mention of the other payments. And the expenses claims were things of great imagination and no little literary merit. (As the auditors confirmed in the unpublished codicil to their report.) Josef Stalin Lloyd went on to become Leader of the local authority, a position from which he was able to provide for both his henchman and his simple-minded kinsman.
No cars were holistically repaired. No local youths were ever trained to perform this miracle. Jenni became a local Labour councillor. Jacqui had a breakdown, but recovered enough to ‘pull down’ more grants for her Indonesian Massage treatment for Tourette’s Syndrome, a ‘technique’ she had picked up while a guest at Doctor McLoony’s Retreat in Aberdeenshire. Jimmi took to the bottle and eventually went to live with a Chinese herbalist in Trimsaran. Only Maximilian ever made it back to Englandland. He had thought of writing a book about their experiences in Wales, but soon realised no one would believe it.
No matter; for a great purpose was served. The Holistic Car Mechanics Co-operative Cymru, and countless similar ‘projects’, allow civil servants in Cardiff to report to civil servants in Brussels that over one billion pounds of EU funding has been well spent, with remarkable ‘outcomes’. The wheel will turn and more funding will arrive. To be spent in exactly the same way. So keep voting Labour. Keep sending the message to those wicked Tories up in Lundun. We don’t want their type down by ‘ere. For Labour is more than capable of wrecking Wales on its own.