Tai Cantref, the Newcastle Emlyn-based housing association has been in the news recently, but for all the wrong reasons. It has, I regret to say, found its way up Shit Creek, where it will struggle to find a berth due to all the other wrecks jostling for space.
For Shit Creek is now home port to a whole fleet of rusting hulks that have collectively ripped countless millions from the Welsh public purse in the devolution era, a period that has given us successive administrations believing that handing out billions to the Third Sector and assorted peripatetic shysters is a substitute for an economy.
The troubles at Cantref did not come out of the blue, they’ve been predicted for some time. They seemed to start with a few poor business decisions, such as trying to turn the old government building at the foot of Bronglais Hill in Aber’ into student accommodation.
Though, in fairness, Cantref may have been trying to do the right thing. For here, in the Annual Report 2012 / 2013 (page 16) we read, “To build new homes, Cantref need (sic) to generate more income and rely less on Social Housing Grant. A successful new initiative to Cantref this year was the introduction of our new student accommodation. We were successful with the submission of 65 units to be part of the Welsh Government’s Revenue Grant programme”. Alternatively, Cantref was laying off one teat to start sucking on another.
The old government building though is quite impressive, as you can see . . . but then, white elephants so often are.
And then, when it began to be realised that Cantref was failing, it seems that a ‘What the hell!’ mentality took over and those responsible for Cantref’s demise decided to invest some of the remaining money in drowning their sorrows.
Or certainly, that’s the impression I gained from this comment to the blog last July. The ‘castle’ referred to is of course Chateau Tucker, the £15m B&B in Cardigan (paid for with public funding, of course), of which I have written many times.
Even though Cantref, a publicly-funded body, was subsequently investigated by persons answering to our democratically-elected representatives we, the public at large, we, whose money is used to fund these bodies, were not allowed to know what had gone wrong. And this from a Labour regime that preaches ‘openness’.
Once it became known that Cantref was in trouble the vultures started circling, among them Mark James, chief executive of Carmarthenshire County Council, though how much the councillors knew of this bid is open to question. For Mr James believes in treating councillors as one would mushrooms. (Keep them in the dark and ply them regularly with shit.)
But there were others interested in taking over Cantref, as we were told by ‘Dai the Post’, in this comment from earlier this month. In particular, note Dai’s reference to “Hillary Jones, from neighbouring ha Bro Myrddin has been trying to self promote herself by persuading Wales and West ha from Cardiff to bail out Cantref and give her a bigger job as head of their western poorer Welsh speaking colony. Perhaps she has been getting advice from her (x Gwalia finance director) husband? More hostels anyone?”
Extra! Extra! You will note in the press release that the person speaking on behalf of Cantref, and in favour of the merger with Wales and West is, “Kevin Taylor, Interim Chair”. Now I mentioned Taylor in Social Housing Back to Council Control? earlier this month, and I wondered who he is. Here’s what I wrote in that earlier post:
I’m still wondering – Who is Kevin Taylor? Who appointed him to the chair of Cantref? (Here’s his Linkedin profile.)
Returning to Wales and West Housing, I have a number of problems with this proposal:
- Why the name, ‘Wales and West’ – is this a cross-border organisation? (I ask because in January 2014 I reported that Wales and West – uniquely among Welsh housing associations – received funding from the UK [i.e. English] government. But why would the English government allow Wales and West £25m to build houses in Wales?)
- Judging by this video and other information on the website Wales and West spends a lot of our money building retirement homes for English people, which obviously increases the load on our overburdened NHS and other services. Acquiring Cantref, which operates mainly in Ceredigion, could represent something of a bonanza for a company seeking to attract English retirees.
- There is a distinctly ‘unWelsh’ feel to Wales and West that perhaps reflects its areas of operation in the south east and the north east. (Check out the Directors to see what I’m alluding to. This is clearly a business, but not a Welsh business.) No merger should be allowed unless – at the very least – there are firm assurances that Cantref’s existing Welsh staff in Newcastle Emlyn will be retained.
This is clearly a ‘merger’ of the kind that took place between Nazi Germany and Poland, or between Communist China and Tibet . . . or between England and Wales.
That’s all for now but I shall be back next week with more on our housing associations, including RCT Homes and Pembrokeshire Housing and its ‘subsidiary’ Mill Bay Homes. And there will also certainly be more to report on Cantref and Wales and West.
UPDATE 23.04.2016: Here’s a press release put out by
Mark James Carmarthenshire County Council expressing disappointment at being kicked in the nuts rejected by Kevin Taylor Cantref. I suspect this story has more twists and turns yet.