Tourism in Wales: problems, thoughts, suggestions

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

I’m taking a break from the con men, fraudsters and assorted crooks who figure regularly here. But I’m not moving far, because this week I’m focusing on tourism operators, politicians and others who themselves have but a nodding acquaintance with the truth.

THE STORM BREAKS

One of the benefits of coronavirus and lockdown was the absence of tourists, and the joyous consequences of that absence. Such as much less traffic on our rural roads, fewer call-outs for our emergency services, and in all manner of ways making rural and coastal areas of Wales more pleasant for those who live there all year round.

Making recent months seem even more of a lost golden age has been the irruption of noisy, stupid and irresponsible tourists since lockdown was eased by our self-styled ‘Welsh Government’, bowing to pressure from the Conservative and Unionist Party and tourism operators.

There has inevitably been a reaction from local people to the return of the tourists in what have been, literally, overwhelming numbers. What you see below was the scene two weeks ago near Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon).

Click to enlarge

Much of the anger this has generated is directed at motorists, with many photos in print and online of inconsiderately parked cars. Which allowed some to argue that all would be well if we had bigger car parks to accommodate all the vehicles. Or even park and ride schemes.

Both of which ignore the real problem – many areas get more cars than the local road system can handle, and more people than the environment can cope with. I shall return to the environmental angle later.

Let’s also remember that the problems caused by tourism go way beyond traffic issues.

RESPONSES

Here’s a two-page spread from last Wednesday’s Llais y Sais, in which we read Councillor Gareth Thomas, Cyngor Gwynedd’s Head of Economical Development, opine that, despite the recent problems, tourism, “provides high quality jobs for local people as well as supporting the county’s environment, language, culture and destinations”.

“Destinations”?

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I don’t know Gareth Thomas, he might be a great bloke, but anyone saying that tourism provides high quality jobs, and that it also supports the area’s environment, language and culture is talking absolute nonsense.

Yesterday’s Daily Post carried what might have been an attempt to retrieve the situation. (With first minister Drakeford not ruling out a tourism tax . . . sort of.) But did council leader Dyfrig Siencyn really say, as he is quoted: ” . . . our rural economy is totally dependent on the tourism industry”?

A fuller version of this article may have appeared in Llais y Sais, Read it here.

Perhaps hoping to establish its own credentials vis-à-vis tourism opposition group Llais Gwynedd also weighed in. For those unfamiliar with Llais Gwynedd (which has 6 councillors), it sees itself as perhaps more radical than Plaid Cymru, more rooted in the local communities of Gwynedd.

Its spokesman, Glyn Daniels, wants to charge hikers on Yr Wyddfa £1 per head. I don’t know Glyn Daniels either, but he’s also talking rubbish. At £1 per head the money raised wouldn’t be enough to cover the costs of collecting and processing it.

What’s more, it would not serve as a deterrent. And we need some kind of deterrent to reduce the numbers coming to areas like our national parks and other ‘honey pots’. To cover the costs mentioned, and put a decent amount into the communities affected, the charge would need to be a minimum of £10 a head.

In a Daily Post poll, more than 70% of respondents agreed there should be a charge.

Opposing Councillor Daniels’ suggestion to charge hikers was Brân Devey, of Ramblers Cymru, with a remark I found rather puzzling: “Local people will not go up Snowdon really in the summer, it is too busy”.

Is he saying we shouldn’t charge the people overcrowding Yr Wyddfa in summer because they’re not locals?

‘Ramblers Cymru’ is worth a little detour.

‘RAMBLERS CYMRU’?

You will remember that ‘Dr’ Jane Davidson, Minister for Hippies in the Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition 2007 – 2011, and midwife of One Planet Developments, was also Welsh vice-president of The Ramblers before stepping down in 2007, and then, as grough tells us, she rejoined as president when she departed Corruption Bay in 2011.

But of course she shunned The Ramblers, and the ramblers, while she was a minister.

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For some reason this second stint with The Ramblers is not mentioned in Davidson’s Wikipedia entry. (By the time you read it the page might have been re-written, again.)

Though it’s difficult to make out if there really is a group called Ramblers Cymru or, as the grough article I just linked to puts it, Davidson became “president of the Ramblers in Wales”.

The website, https://www.ramblers.org.uk/wales, suggests another Englandandwales organisation, for when you click ‘Home’ on the Wales page you go back to the UK site.

Which is appropriate, for most of those working for Ramblers Cymru have moved here to do jobs that are clearly beyond the abilities of Welsh people. Mainly women of the type who have flooded into Wales since devolution to run the hundreds of third sector bodies that the ‘progressive’ parties feel we can’t do without.

One, Maria Hamlett, says: “My background includes working in numerous third sector organisations in key governance roles”. While Amanda Hill has: “15 years experience working for Worcestershire County Council”. Rebecca Brough: “I have a background in policy influencing work in the governmental, charity and statutory sectors”.

Important points there. For the staff at Ramblers Cymru don’t restrict themselves to scolding a wicked farmer for leaving Berwyn the bull on the footpath, they also seek to influence policy-makers. Just as Jane Davidson did, before, during, and after her stint as a minister.

The people I’m describing do not represent – nor do they seek to represent – our interests. If Welsh interests are served then it’s entirely accidental or tangential. ‘Ramblers Cymru’ and similar organisations seek to curate (love that word!) our homeland for the benefit of others like themselves.

We have far too many colonialist organisations like ‘Ramblers Cymru’.

Because it is what it is no one should be surprised to learn that – just like ‘rewilders’ – The Ramblers demand that the ‘Welsh Government’ forces farmers to do their bidding or have their funding withheld.

Dontcha just love the term, ‘our land’. Another example of, ‘What’s yours is ours’.

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The Ramblers merit this digression because they see Wales as an area for recreation. For them Wales is not a different country; where people witness their language and identity, the country itself, being destroyed by saturation tourism.

What should also make you angry is that these memsahibs, based on Cathedral Road (ideal for rambling), and others just like them, have more influence in Corruption Bay than we poor natives will ever have.

WHAT THE POLITICIANS SAY

That ‘our’ politicians go along with ‘Playground Wales’ is easily explained.

The Labour Party, which has managed Wales since 1999, is an urban party with little concern for rural areas. Labour has no coherent economic plan for the countryside so pretending there is a ‘strategy for tourism’ is a useful way of disguising this inadequacy.

The truth is that tourism is unregulated; it just ‘happens’, and things would carry on in much the same way if the ‘Welsh Government’ fell into a wormhole and reappeared in some distant galaxy. (Stop dreaming!) Making bodies like Visit Wales little more than bystanders, pretending they do something more than organise beanos where they hand out awards and grants.

Click to read article and play video

One of the few things to be said in its favour is that tourism reveals the inconsistency, if not the hypocrisy, of the Labour Party.

Wales must be covered in wind turbines to save the planet, says Labour. For the same reason, OPDs must be allowed to impose their carbon footprint on previously unused land. Yet when our environment is trashed by tourist hordes on a regular basis Labour politicians are blind to the environmental damage!

Another example of Labour’s hypocrisy might be promoting renewable energy, saving the planet, and worrying about the underprivileged . . . while giving millions of pounds to Aston Martin to build £200,000 cars doing 12 miles to the gallon.

The ‘Welsh Government’s declaration of a climate emergency is just bullshit to explain away Wales being lumbered with the wind turbines English communities refuse to accept, and having to accommodate Jane Davidson’s friends.

The Conservative and Unionist Party (plus the fringe BritNats) will support tourism because they will never object to anything that both anglicises Wales and keeps money flowing back to England from staycations in Wales.

Blind, unthinking loyalty to tourism probably explains the comment, quoted in the North Wales Pioneer, from Darren Millar, the MS for Clwyd West, addressing Glyn Daniels’ pound a head suggestion. In Millar’s view, “This is a bad idea. Every pound charged will be a pound less for people to spend in the local economy”.

If Darren Millar had thought before speaking he’d have realised that every pound charged would be guaranteed to stay in the locality, unlike money taken in other ways.

What’s more, those who drive to Yr Wyddfa – to park here, there and everywhere – are often day-trippers, from Greater Manchester, Merseyside and towns nearby. Some will arrive having filled the fuel tank before leaving England, bring a packed lunch, and go home without spending a penny!

For the environmental damage alone, these buggers should be charged £20 a head.

While Plaid Cymru . . . well, what can I say? Plaid Cymru nowadays doesn’t give much thought to Wales. They’re too busy facing up to the fascist hordes they see advancing, outing terfs on social media, and planning more dirty tricks against Neil McEvoy.

Though maybe it’s best they stay schtum, because when they do address the subject – as we’ve seen with Gareth Thomas – they only confirm that they’ve lost the plot.

Whenever a political party, or a politician, says, ‘Wales needs tourism’ they are either lying or exposing their ignorance. The truth is only arrived at by reversing the phrase to read, ‘Tourism needs Wales’.

To conclude this section on a more optimistic note, Wales has two new political parties – Gwlad and the WNP – who I’m sure will take a more analytical, and patriotic, approach to tourism.

I expect both to demand a form of tourism that works for Wales, and the Welsh. Rather than what we suffer at present – an alien enterprise with Welsh people nothing but helpless bystanders as their country is trashed.

MAKING TOURISM WORK FOR US

Let me set out my stall . . .

  • I want to see an industry offering visitors from all over the world quality tourism.
  • An industry that provides business opportunities and well-paid, permanent  jobs for Welsh people.
  • An industry that benefits Wales and her people without the cultural, social and environmental damage currently being inflicted by tourism.

Here are just a few suggestions for achieving these objectives:

1/ Tourism tax: A minimum charge of £2 per head per overnight stay, including those in self-catering accommodation. This to be collected by the owner of the property or site and paid to the local authority.

This money will used in the areas from which it is collected or on capital projects of more widespread benefit. Why not consult local people on how they’d like to see it spent?

Tourism tax is raised everywhere and it benefits local communities. I recall Silvio Berlusconi having to pay a local tourism tax in Sardinia when he docked his luxury yacht, the Bunga Bunga.

2/ Caravan sites: These is no place for these blots on the landscape in a country promoting quality tourism in a respected environment. They offer holidays on the cheap and the money they put into the local economy is overstated. Very few jobs are created and the major beneficiary is the site owner, often a foreign company.

Caravan sites should be phased out over a period of ten years with no replacement ‘vans, cabins or lodges permitted. Thousands of acres could be returned to agriculture or Nature by getting rid of them.

Farmers and others should be allowed small sites of perhaps no more than 50 units.

To maximise tourism income, business opportunities and jobs we should strive to have as many people as possible staying in serviced accommodation.

3/ Raising standards: In New Zealand – a country with which we often like to compare Wales – they have a School of Tourism, operating on eight campuses throughout the country, internationally respected and offering a wide range of courses.

In Wales, all we do is teach Siôn and Sioned elementary catering skills at the local sixth form college so they can work for Kevin from Stockport who owns the local hotel . . . since he bought it off Keith and Sharon from Coventry. Kevin, of course, will have had no training.

Or it might be Paul and Rowena Williams at Plas Glynllifon and Seiont Manor. Or their business partner, Myles Cunliffe. (‘Weep for Wales’ passim.) Or perhaps Siôn and Sioned can get a job at one of the hotels owned by Gavin Lee Woodhouse.

Or perhaps not, seeing as all the businesses owned by these crooks are closed and/or in the hands of receivers.

Which is why other countries insist on a proven level of proficiency, and background checks, before anyone is allowed to run a hotel. But here, money is all that matters. As long as you’ve got the dosh you can buy a five star hotel, and run it badly, thereby damaging the reputation of the locality, and Wales.

You can even buy a zoo without knowing anything about the care of animals!

4/ Permits: New Zealand provides another example worth following. (And NZ isn’t alone in this.) I’m referring now to limiting numbers visiting environmentally sensitive areas and issuing those visiting with permits.

If you live outside Wales and you want to go hiking in one of our national parks then you should pay £20 a year. For the three national parks you pay £50 a year. If the National Trust can charge us to visit sites in our own country, why can’t we do something similar and use the money for our benefit?

Again, the money raised would be used within the local area.

Click to read article

5/ Airports: You don’t need to go as far as New Zealand to realise the value of a good airport. Scotland is a much nearer example. Overseas tourists, high-spending overseas tourists, fly directly to Glasgow and Edinburgh. They do so all year round.

All we have is Cardiff airport, kept afloat by public money and still losing out to Bristol. We obviously need a new, more accessible airport in the south. We also need one in the north. Why not revamp Llanbedr airfield? It would be better to have overseas tourists flying in than to have the place used – as at present – for testing inaccurate drones that will wipe out wedding parties in Afghanistan.

Well-heeled foreign tourists flying in also offer opportunities for taxi and car hire firms.

6/ Public Transport: Overseas and other tourists not wanting to drive will need public transport. An integrated public transport system is therefore essential. This would have to include a north-south rail link.

The ‘Welsh Government’ has prevaricated for years over re-opening the Carmarthen to Aberystwyth line. That’s because doing so would offer no obvious benefits to Cardiff or to England.

Yet you’d think that an administration dedicated to saving the planet would prioritise public transport. But no, and this lack of commitment to public transport – apart from the Cardiff Metro (to benefit the Cardiff economy not the environment) – is yet another example of Labour’s hypocrisy.

7/ Funding: A major obstacle to Welsh people getting involved in tourism – other than as cooks and cleaners – is a lack of finance.

The ‘Welsh Government’ could divert a portion of the funding it squanders on third sector memsahibs into a pot accessible to young Welsh people who’ve been through school, got a few years practical experience under their belts, and now need funding to branch out on their own.

I appreciate that this is not how tourism is supposed to operate in a colonial context, but what the hell – let’s give it a try!

8/ Touring caravans and Camper-vans: I’m throwing this one in more as a traffic safety measure and a means of lowering blood pressure, but it’s definitely related to tourism.

No towed caravans or camper-vans should be allowed on any public highway between the hours of 6am and 10pm.

CONCLUSION

Tourism in Wales can be summed up as hundreds of thousands of people driving east to west along overcrowded roads, congregating in unsustainable numbers at certain points, staying in the cheapest possible accommodation (if they stay at all), and spending as little money as possible before driving home. Each wave succeeded by the next, and each wave contributing to erosion.

So, what do you think – should we continue to accept ‘Tourism at any cost’?

I say no. I say we reject the idea that Wales exists to provide cheap holidays for our neighbours. Wales should not provide anything to anyone on the cheap.

But the political will must be there to make the necessary changes.

If the political will is absent then we as a nation have every right to defend ourselves from this exploitation of our homeland, this assault on our very identity.

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Shorts & Updates for St. David’s Day

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

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

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DAWN BOWDEN AM?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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OXBRIDGE AND THE WELSH CRINGE

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

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

Olchfa

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

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

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

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

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TOURISM PAYING ITS WAY

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

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

Snowdon tourists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 IS ‘WELLNESS’ A SYNONYM FOR PRIVATE HEALTH CARE?

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

Meryl
MERYL GRAVELL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wynne Jones Helga Warren

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep up the good work, Wynne.

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‘EVERYTHING MUST GO’ SAYS CYNGOR CEREDIGION PwC 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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