Thursday, 25 August 2016

Council of Despair: The Evils of Online Abuse

Y Gair Olaf
A Message from the Chief to All Staff

Katie Hopkins, Rihanna, Kim Kardashian, Cliff Richard, Justin Bieber and Piers Morgan are all, I am reliably informed, popular celebrities just like me, and I have to confess to a particular weakness for Sir Cliff's immortal smash hit Mistletoe and Wine which is played at our Executive Board Christmas Party every year as I lead Dame Muriel out for the last waltz. 

But I digress.

Just like Ms Hopkins, Piers Morgan and the rest, I too have become the victim of vile online abuse, according to Mrs Rees Mogg.

As you all know, I am a very busy man and do not have time to read the scurrilous drivel and effluent masquerading as journalism spewed out by a fox calling himself 'Cadno', Shipton of the Mail and various other individuals with too much time on their hands.

This newsletter and the excellent Carmarthenshire News, printed and distributed free and at absolutely no cost whatsoever to every household in the land, contain everything you need to know.

Incidentally, Miss Klebb in our press office has asked me to remind you to fill out suggestion slips with ideas to make the Carmarthenshire News even better, and I can exclusively reveal that this month's runaway favourites with hundreds of slips posted in anonymously from Trimsaran and Abergwili are "1,000 Wonderful Things - A Countdown of Dame Muriel's Most Outstanding Achievements", and "25 common sense ways to dispose of fluffy kittens".

Miss Klebb is delighted with the response and says that she looks forward to publishing lots more 'listicles', just like the Carmarthen Journal.

To the person who suggested that we publish a breakdown of senior executive pay and perks, I am informed that Security are very close to concluding their investigations.

But it is with a heavy heart that I must return to the subject of the curse of social media.

As you may be aware, a certain Mrs T of Llanwrda now owes the council hundreds of thousands of pounds, and I regret that unless we recover this money, I may have to make many of you redundant.

That would truly be a tragedy because I took the decision to fight her in the courts purely to protect you. The fact that I was awarded substantial damages by Lord Justice Cocklecarrot was merely a happy byproduct of the case.

In attempt to recover some of the money, I recently sent in Kray Debt Recovery Services, a reputable London firm of specialists.

Unfortunately they were unable to find anything of value, and so we now find ourselves forced to take more drastic measures. Moreover, KDRS's very reasonable bill of £103,769.42 plus VAT must now be added to Mrs T's debt.

The Reverend Dole, who is currently standing in for Dame Muriel, has now agreed to initiate further court proceedings. I found his words at our recent Board meeting strangely comforting: "For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him, or possibly her, shall be taken away even that he or she [delete as appropriate] hath.”

Nevertheless, Mrs T persists in making vile references to my pension arrangements and a legal indemnity which she says were 'unlawful'.

This despite the fact that I was completely exonerated by a police investigation and an overwhelming vote by councillors to reject the ludicrous claims made by an unqualified bean counter sent in by those interfering busybodies at the Wales Audit Office. 

I was therefore greatly touched to hear that Mrs Rees Mogg and a team of volunteers decided to come to my aid by trawling through a veritable sewer of material produced by this woman, toiling selflessly day and night to print off thousands of "articles" to be sent for the attention of Her Majesty's Constabulary where a crack squad is now investigating allegations of harassment.

It brings tears to my eyes to think that all of this work was undertaken at no cost whatsoever to the tax payer, and out of a sense of love and loyalty to me, a humble recipient of a great honour from Her Majesty and the most senior local authority Head of Paid Service in the land.

This demonstrates what great value for money residents are getting from this council, and sends a clear warning to other so-called media operators that publication of references to me not approved by Miss Klebb could have dire consequences.

The Chief



 

Tai Cantref: Merger at Gunpoint

Although shareholders voted on Tuesday to push ahead with the merger with Wales and West, the battle may not yet be over.

It is becoming increasingly clear that shareholders were told that the choice was merger or bankruptcy, with the Welsh Government's secret statutory inquiry and report having spooked creditors.

Mystery also surrounds the timing of a government press release claiming that the vote was unanimous when it was not.

Jonathan Edwards MP and Adam Price AM are now calling for a National Assembly Committee Inquiry into the merger.

Citing concerns over the role of the Welsh Government in the merger and the lack of consultation with tenants by Tai Cantref, the Plaid representatives argue that an inquiry would allow for an investigation into the Welsh Government's regulatory oversight of Tai Cantref.

In a press release Adam Price said an inquiry would allow the findings of the Welsh Government's statutory inquiry into Tai Cantref to be made public – an essential step considering that the findings of that report not only constituted the basis for the merger but put Tai Cantref on the brink of financial insolvency.

"Given the strength of other options open to Tai Cantref, such as support from a local authority and other local housing associations, there is an opportunity for the Assembly committee to consider whether existing legislation needs amending to allow for a more dynamic approach to the provision of social housing in Wales."

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Cantref - Round Two and another letter - Updated

Update 24 August 

At a second EGM last night, shareholders voted 27 to 5 in favour of the merger with Wales and West. The result of the vote was featured on Newyddion 9, although rather oddly the news report contained a statement from the Welsh Government claiming that the shareholders had voted "unanimously" in favour of the merger, a claim which was unsurprisingly repeated as fact by BBC Radio Wales in an English language news bulletin.

Speaking on behalf of the campaign group Ble ti'n mynd i fyw, Osian Elias warned that Wales and West had made no firm commitments to back up promises it had made to safeguard the position of the Welsh language or use local contractors. Shareholders could only hope that Wales and West kept its word.

One of the shareholders, Peter Davies, expressed sadness at what had happened. Shareholders had little choice but to back the merger, he said, because Cantref's creditors had threatened to withdraw their lines of credit, and that would have pushed Cantref into the hands of the receivers. He went on to call for an independent investigation into what had happened and the publication of the secret report commissioned by the government.

Jonathan Edwards MP again pointed to the lack of consultation with Cantref's tenants, and warned that there could be a judicial review of the decision.

_______________

Events at Cantref are moving rapidly, and so this is the third post on the subject in 48 hours.

A second special general meeting of the association's shareholders has been called for 23 August at its headquarters in Newcastle Emlyn to ratify the decision taken on 9 August to "merge" with Wales and West Housing.

Ble ti'n mynd i fyw?, an independent group set up to give a voice to young people in Ceredigion on housing matters, is calling on shareholders to overturn the earlier decision.

Here is their statement.Welsh first, followed by an English translation:

Ail gyfle i achub Cantref rhag ei draflyncu

Rydym ni, grŵp annibynnol lleol Ble Ti'n Mynd i Fyw sydd yn cynnig llais i bobl ifanc yn y Gorllewin ar faterion ynghlwm â thai, eisoes wedi mynegi ein pryderon am yr uno arfaethedig rhwng Wales and West Housing a Chymdeithas Tai Cantref.

Yn dilyn cyfarfod cyfranddalwyr Cymdeithas Tai Cantref (nos Fawrth 09/08/2016), mae Ble Ti'n Mynd i Fyw yn pwysleisio bod ail gyfle i achub Cantref rhag cael ei draflyncu gan Wales and West Housing mewn cyfarfod cyfranddalwyr ar nos Fawrth 23/08/2016. 

Amlygodd y cyfarfod cyntaf nifer o ddiffygion y broses o uno Cantref a Wales and West Housing, gan gynnwys:
  • Diffyg ymgynghori gyda thenantiaid, cyfranddalwyr, rhanddeiliaid a'r cyhoedd.
  • Diffyg sicrwydd i denantiaid.
  • Diffyg sicrwydd swyddi yn y Gorllewin.
  • Diffyg dealltwriaeth o werth y Gymraeg, a diffyg sicrwydd mewn perthynas â'r iaith.
  • Diffyg tryloywder a chyhoeddusrwydd mewn perthynas â'r datblygiad lleol pwysig hwn.
  • Bod nifer o gyfranddalwyr yn anhapus gyda'r diffyg gwybodaeth o flaen llaw, ac wedi codi pryderon am hyn a'r diffyg ymgynghori yn y cyfarfod.
Mae pryder difrifol mewn perthynas â'r diffygion hyn, yn enwedig o ystyried y broses uno arfaethedig hyd yn hyn. Mae nifer o bobl wedi sôn wrth grŵp Ble Ti'n Mynd i Fyw am y bygythiad i swyddi a gwaith lleol a'r diffyg llwyr o ymwybyddiaeth iaith a amlygwyd trwy gynnal cyfarfodydd yn uniaith Saesneg.

Pwysleisiwn fod gan gyfranddalwyr Cantref ail gyfle i wrthod yr uno arfaethedig hyn, ac i osgoi traflynciad ased dai lleol gan y cawr yma o'r brifddinas sydd yn dangos dim dealltwriaeth na gwerthfawrogiad o anghenion lleol.

Mae Ble Ti'n Mynd i Fyw yn gwrthwynebu'r uno arfaethedig ar sail tair prif ddadl:
  1. Gwasaneth lleol – mae Cantref yn sefydliad bach sydd wedi'i leoli yn y gymuned, ac yn rhan naturiol ac allweddol o'r fro y mae'n gwasanaethu.
  2. Swyddi – mae Cantref yn gyflogwr allweddol sydd yn darparu swyddi o safon uchel trwy gyfrwng y Gymraeg yn lleol.
  3. Iaith – mae gan Cantref werthfawrogiad unigryw o werth yr iaith, mae hyn mewn cyferbyniad ag unieithrwydd Saesneg Wales and West Housing.
Rydym o'r farn y byddai'r uno arfaethedig yn golygu bod nifer o'r manteision o gael ein gwasanaethu gan Cantref; megis yr elfen leol, swyddi, a'r iaith; yn cael ei golli ym maint a diffyg dealltwriaeth Wales and West Housing.

A second opportunity to save Cantref from perilous takeover

We, Ble Ti'n Mynd i Fyw? – an independent local group providing young people in the west of Wales a platform to discuss housing matters – have already expressed our concerns regarding the proposed takeover by Wales and West Housing of Cantref Housing Association.
Following a meeting for Cantref Housing Association's shareholders (Tuesday 09/08/2016), our group (Ble Ti'n Mynd i Fyw?) stresses that shareholders still have a second opportunity to save Cantref Housing Association from being swallowed by Wales and West Housing in a second meeting held on Tuesday 23/08/2016.
The first meeting highlighted a number of shortfalls in the process of merging Cantref and Wales and West Housing, including:
  • A lack of consultation with tenants, shareholders, stakeholders and the public.
  • A lack of certainty for tenants.
  • A lack of employment security in the west of Wales.
  • A lack of understanding of the value of the Welsh language, and a lack of assurance regarding the language.
  • A lack of transparency and publicity with regards to this important development to the local area.
  • The fact that many shareholders were unhappy with the lack of information provided beforehand, and had raised concerns regarding this matter and the lack of consultation during the recent meeting.
There are serious concerns regarding these shortfalls, especially considering the background of this proposed merger. A number of people have raised concerns with the Ble Ti'n Mynd i Fyw? group regarding the threat to employment and local contracted work, and the complete lack of language awareness highlighted when the company started holding meetings in English only.
We stress that Cantref shareholders have a second golden opportunity to reject the proposed merger and to avoid the takeover of a local housing asset by this giant company from the capital, which has showed no understanding or appreciation of local needs.
Ble Ti'n Mynd i Fyw? opposes this proposed merger based on three main arguments:
  1. The local factor – Cantref is a small organization rooted in the community, and a natural and key part of the communities it serves
  2. The employment factor – Cantref is a key employer which provides quality employment opportunities locally through the medium of Welsh
  3. The language factor – Cantref has an unique appreciation of the value of the Welsh language, which contrasts drastically with the English monolingualism of Wales and West Housing.
We believe that the proposed merger will lead to the loss of the local element, employment and the Welsh language, which Cantref provides, due to being swallowed by the sheer size and lack of understanding of Wales and West Housing.
DIWEDD / END

Mushrooms

Both Ble ti'n mynd i fyw? and the Tai Ceredigion Tenant Monitoring Group have made strenuous but largely fruitless efforts to contact Cantref's shareholders who, it is clear, have been treated like those proverbial mushrooms: kept in the dark and fed a diet of manure. Even the manure was strictly rationed.

Here is an extract from an open letter sent to Cantref's tenants from the Tai Ceredigion Tenant Monitoring Group, dated 1 July 2016:



"At the Annual General Meeting on the 16th of July last year your CEO signed off the annual accounts for Cymdeithas Tai Cantref, as audited on the 31st of March, 2015.  The accounts stated Cymdeithas Tai Cantref Limited had a surplus in funds for the year of £978 thousand, increasing the total funds available to the company to nearly £6.6 million.  Yet, by the end of the same month of July, 2015, there were reports that the company was in serious trouble.


The Welsh Government called in a consultancy to conduct an inquiry into the company.  Before it was completed, on the 15th of August, 2015, CEO Lynne Sacale stated to the BBC  that:


"We want to reassure our tenants that Cantref is fully compliant with all financial and regulatory requirements to date.  We have recently undergone a robust and successful statutory audit and our performance indicators show we deliver high quality services to our customers.  We welcome the inquiry on the basis that any findings will be to the benefit of the association going forward."

It was another four months, until the 10th of December, before your CEO took their leave of absence.  But this did not appear in the local press until the 11th of February, 2016, when it was announced that Hilary Jones of Bro Myrddin Housing Association and Doug Elliott, a former head of regulation in the Welsh Government, had been parachuted in to take “temporary charge.”

The article also mentioned that the inquiry by the consultants acting on behalf of the Welsh Government had been completed.  There was no mention that David Wilcox had “stepped down” as chair of the board.  (The date of this is still a mystery to us.)"  

The letter goes on to describe at length the many attempts the Monitoring Group made to obtain a copy of the shareholder register, as it wished to contact Cantref's tenants and offer them advice. Normally, shareholder registers are public documents, but Cantref is regulated not by Companies House but the Financial Conduct Authority, and the group was sent on a wild goose chase which ended up with Cantref declaring that they could not have a copy because of Data Protection.

In the end, the Monitoring Group decided that its best hope of contacting those tenants who were also shareholders lay through publishing its appeal on Facebook.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Cantref - a bombshell

Since publication of the previous post, a copy of a letter from the Tai Ceredigion Tenant Monitoring Group has come in, dated 16 August. The letter, signed by Jim Scanlan, chair of the monitoring group, is addressed to Carl Sargeant and deserves to be reproduced in full.

It is not clear what Carl Sargeant's reply of 26 June said, but a great deal of water has since passed under the bridge, and the rest of the letter speaks for itself.





Dear Cabinet Secretary,
Thank you for your letter of the 26th of June, in reply to ours of the 9th of June.  We found it most encouraging.
It is with regret we have to report that our efforts to contact the shareholders and later the tenants of Tai Cantref, to advise them as fellow tenants of some of the safeguards they should expect following any merger, has not been successful; the forums we had hoped to hold were never called. 
We have made some contacts and we hope to extend these now the vote has been passed.  We, as a group, are still willing to show how an independent tenant body can actively participate and assist a Registered Social Landlord (RSL), to improve a landlord's understanding of tenant concerns.  In this respect we are still willing to hold, under supervision, training sessions with any Cantref tenants interested in forming a tenants' group.
But following the vote our concerns for the tenants of Tai Cantref have increased.  These are:
1.         If, following an investigation which was so sensitive it could not be published, suggesting a failure of governance, why was the same board which created this situation allowed to dictate the conditions of the transfer?
2.         Despite pronouncements, such as, The board, senior management and staff place the interests of tenants... at the centre of all we do” (Cambrian News, 11th of February, 2016), and “Our tenants are our number one priority...” (Kevin Taylor, interim chair, Cantref web site, 11th of August, 2016), there has not been any genuine consultation with the tenant body regarding the fact the landlord of said tenant body is about to change, or of the possible ramifications thereof.  We believe this to be a breach of their statutory duties as a RSL and may be a violation of the Housing Act 1996.  Even so, surely a majority of the secure tenants will have to agree to any transfer before it can proceed?
3.         Following on from the pronouncements, why then, from the time they decided on their chosen partner, did the board actively block tenants from becoming shareholders?  We understand there is a rule which allows for not allowing individual applications, but surely not for a blanket ban on something that directly affects all the tenants of the company?
4.         When we transferred from Ceredigion County Council we were all given a legally binding Offer Document, outlining the reasons for the transfer, what it would entail and what guarantees there would be to protect the tenant's interests, including provisions for tenants on the (senior) board and the active participation by a scrutinising group, able to have access to the senior management.  Furthermore, the council held forums across the county to consult directly with as many tenants as possible before the transfer.
What have the tenants of Tai Cantref received?  Nothing but a note stating their tenancy agreements might change.  What of those who were deemed as acceptable as shareholders?  What have they seen prior to the vote on the 10th?  The Annual Report for the previous financial year, which might have shed some light on the extend of the mess and what needs correcting, has still not been published.  No written reports one month prior to the vote, giving the reasons for the merger, nor any written prospectus from Wales & West on how they are to resolve the issues; just private, individual, verbal briefings, which therefore cannot be collaborated or substantiated.  From the reports we have seen, these documents were not even made available to the shareholders at the Special General Meeting (SGM); all they were given was a verbal plea for the resolution to be passed.  On this basis alone, we wonder if the vote has any standing in law?
Instead, the shareholders had Penri James, vice-chair of Cantref in the Cambrian News of the 4th of August, 2016, witter that, “If the merger isn't voted through, we just don't know what would happen.  But it could be as extreme as Cantref being dissolved if the merger doesn't go ahead.”  This was at least disingenuous disinformation.  As a senior member of a company board he must have known that all mergers are a form of takeover; any merger where they are the junior partner means the company will be dissolved.  A sub-division of Wales & West might retain the name of Tai Cantref but the tenancy agreements will be with Wales & West, the rents will go to Wales & West and the strategic decisions affecting the tenants in this region will be determined in Cardiff, not Newcastle Emlyn.
5.         The same reports state the current board is so incompetent they had not negotiated any guarantees from Wales & West prior to the vote, including those on future rents.  So much for the tenants being “at the centre of all we do.”  From what we have heard, Carmarthenshire County Council have already offered such, including the underwriting of any current debts which Tai Cantref may have, a rent cap and in some degree the guaranteeing of jobs and offices.
6.         Then there was the SGM itself, where three interesting details came to light.  Firstly, Tai Cantref had already announced in 2013 that they were up to the WHQ standard.  Then there was the revelation that Wales & West would not be able to bring the Cantref properties to WHQ standard until 2024.  That is a delay of another eight years.  Another eight years the tenants of Tai Cantref will have to wait until their homes are brought up to the standard; eleven years after they were told the standard had been reached and four years after the Welsh Government's deadline!
7.         But it was the third detail which seemed to clarify the situation regarding the previous two and gave a possible reason as to why the consultant's report was not published.  Apparently, at the meeting, both the interim chair, Kevin Taylor, and a former board member, Cynog Dafis, blamed the regulator for the company's catastrophic failure.  For what reason?  For reminding the board they had a statutory duty to bring their properties to and maintain them at the WHQ standard, instead of spending their rental income on empire building?  If that is the case then we at TCMG are very angry: the regulator is one of the few active safeguards social tenants have against obstructive landlords.
We regret having to raise these concerns but suspect that anyway, sooner or later, they will land on your desk.  We humbly suggest this situation cannot continue.  To us, it appears both companies have been behaving like private-sector corporations, not as social landlords.
We fear that if the situation is allowed to continue to a second vote then it will make a mockery of the whole social housing programme, completely undermining it and allowing other housing associations to absolve themselves from all aspects of it.
Wherefore then tenant participation?  Affordable rent protection?  The protection of secure tenant's rights?  The duality of both the Welsh and English languages in this part of Wales?
Wherefore then the future of building homes which are affordable to rent?  Over the last thirty years the private sector has singly failed in this regard.  Instead, we have seen a proliferation of three-to-four bedroom houses built for sale, often as second homes, or for letting at holiday rates, thereby undercutting the Welsh economy by restricting where local workers can afford to live.
Therefore we request you intervene, to investigate how these two housing associations have been allowed to get to this position: of pretending to be acting on behalf of the Cantref tenants while totally ignoring said tenant's interests; for ignoring all tenant's interests.  We request you act soonest to resolve this issue on behalf of the Cantref tenants and to protect the concept of social housing.
We look forward to your reply.



Yours faithfully, 

Jim Scanlan