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         If, following an investigation which was so sensitive it could not be published, suggesting a failure of governance, why was the same board which created this situation allowed to dictate the conditions of the transfer?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

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