My previous post dealt with offshore property company Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd and housing associations leasing properties from it, though I made passing reference – just a paragraph – to another publicly funded housing association, Pembrokeshire Housing, and Mill Bay Homes, the latter a subsidiary of the former that builds houses to sell to anyone.
This brief mention was enough to send someone scampering to Hugh James, the ‘Welsh’ Government’s favourite legal firm. (Indeed, to judge by the amount of business Carwyn’s civil servants put the way of Hugh James you’d think there were no other lawyers in Wales.) And so on Friday evening I received another threatening letter from Ms Tracey Singlehurst-Ward.
It says: “You are required to remove the statement from the website and any other location (either in hard or soft copy) in which you have published it by no later than 9am on Monday 23 October 2016. (Monday is actually the 24th.) You are also required to confirm in writing by way of undertaking that the allegation will not be repeated.” Read it for yourself.
You will see that the period of grace I am allowed in which to recant left me no opportunity to seek advice from other members of Ms Singlehurst-Ward’s profession. So I have had to rely on my own counsel, which directed me to refuse capitulation but to amend the offending paragraph. If it still offends, anyone, hard luck, because that’s all you’re getting.
In many ways, Mill Bay Homes is a curious beast. To begin with, it is a Registered Social Landlord (No L124) and yet (as far as I can tell), it receives no funding from the ‘Welsh’ Government. But then, this is as it should be, for Mill Bay Homes does not build or rent social housing . . . so why is it a Registered Social Landlord?
The answer is that Mill Bay Homes ‘inherited’ its RSL number when Pembrokeshire Housing 2000 – a craft that never launched – changed its name to Mill Bay Homes in February 2012. After which Mill Bay Homes took off to become one of the leading house builders in the county, using money transferred from Pembrokeshire Housing – which of course does receive public funding.
This paragraph is directed to the ‘Welsh’ Government, more specifically, the Housing Directorate.
‘If Mill Bay Homes applied to become a Registered Social Landlord tomorrow you would, quite correctly, turn down the application for the obvious reason that MBH neither builds nor rents social housing. (This explains why it does not receive Social Housing Grant or other funding.) That being so, why do you allow MBH to retain the RSL number of its predecessor?’
Anomalies abound when we consider the relationship between Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes. We can even add Pembrokeshire County Council to the mix, for both have a close relationship with the local authority. Take, for example, this S106 agreement drawn up just before Christmas last year between MBH and the council.
The agreement deals with “four Social Rented Housing Units” and “two Intermediate Housing Units” in the Newton Heights development totalling some 55 properties at Kilgetty. Later in that document, in Schedule 4, we encounter the paragraph below.
“The RSL” has to be Pembrokeshire Housing, if only because Mill Bay Homes does not receive grant funding (and wouldn’t be buying from itself). Which means that, having transferred millions of pounds to Mill Bay Homes for it to build homes for sale, Pembrokeshire Housing will then use grant funding to buy one (or more?) of those properties.
I can’t help thinking that something ‘clever’ is going on here. Maybe too clever for old Jac. Another one for the Housing Directorate? So let me frame it as a question.
‘Publicly funded Pembrokeshire Housing shuffles money to its subsidiary, Mill Bay Homes. Mill Bay Homes builds private dwellings. Now it appears that Pembrokeshire Housing buys properties from Mill Bay Homes with grant funding.
Why doesn’t Pembrokeshire Housing just build its own social housing with the money it receives from the ‘Welsh’ Government for that express purpose?’
Come to that, how many social housing units could Pembrokeshire Housing have built with the millions it’s passed to Mill Bay Homes? Is there no demand in Pembrokeshire for more social housing? If not, why is Pembrokeshire Housing still receiving grant funding?
Something is not right down west. Money goes into Pembrokeshire Housing from various sources, gets mixed up, and comes out the other end, with over £6m going to MBH (by the end of the financial year 31.03.2015).
Yet we are asked to believe that none of this money comes from grants received from the ‘Welsh’ Government. In other words, it is not public funding. Maybe the source is rents received from PH’s tenants, or money from sales of social housing. But who paid for that housing in the first place?
All of Pembrokeshire Housing’s assets and income ultimately derive from the public purse. That being so, should any of it be used to build open market housing?
As I say above, my mention of Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes was little more than a passing reference in a piece about Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd, a company that owns a few thousand properties across southern Wales, from Llanelli eastwards, so let us return to the main dish.
I contacted the Coastal Housing Group in Swansea, one of the housing associations leasing properties from Link Holdings, but the exchange ended with the message below. Clearly, the shutters have gone up.
Looking at this latest threat from Hugh James I can’t help wondering who exactly triggered it. Was it really Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes? If so, then they were a bit slow off the mark, because the post had been up for a week before Ms Singlehurst-Ward swung into action.
Picture it, gentle reader; there I am, blogging merrily away, exposing the scandal that housing associations are dealing with property companies registered in tax havens, and that money is passing from a publicly-funded RSL to its subsidiary, for that subsidiary to build private housing, and wham! – out of a clear blue sky comes another threatening letter from Hugh James, a company that itself has grown fat off the public purse.
An unkind soul might say they’re all in it together, civil servants, RSLs, lawyers, etc, all sucking on the teat of the public purse, so why not watch each other’s backs, hang together lest they hang separately?
Which raises the possibility that certain persons know about the arrangement in Pembrokeshire, and are quite happy to fund it. And perhaps these same people also know that housing associations are dealing with companies hiding in tax havens that could be run by gangsters, and they also support this arrangement.
Because imagine the embarrassment in certain quarters if it became known that homes were being built in Pembrokeshire by a company funded by a housing association that has received tens of millions in grants from the ‘Welsh’ Government, and that some of these properties are sold to English retirees or used as holiday homes. Or that housing associations are officially encouraged to deal with faceless companies in tax havens!
This would explain why such people, instead of responding with, ‘Thank you, Jac, for drawing this to our attention, your OBE is in the pipeline, regularly set the dogs on me!
I have argued for some time that the system of publicly-funded Registered Social Landlords is unsustainable in the long run. We are, effectively, giving public money to what are in many cases unaccountable private companies. As I see it, there are three options:
1/ Cut RSLs adrift and let them support themselves by raising private funding. (After all, they are asset rich.)
2/ Return the role of social housing provision, together with the current stock, to local authorities.
3/ Let the ‘Welsh’ Government take over the social housing stock and set up a national body along the lines of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.
The more I learn of RSLs the more convinced I become that the existing system of social housing provision in Wales is broken. For anyone to pretend otherwise is to be wilfully blind or else defend known practises that would shock and outrage most people if they gained wider publicity than they get from my blog.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ END ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
NEXT: The promised article in which I explain why I’m voting Leave in the EU referendum
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’:
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?
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.
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?
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)
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.