west*wales*news*review

West Wales News Review — analysis with a sustainability slant

Lampeter Church Service for Cancer Care

Jane and Steven Holmes from Ffarmers are keen runners and supporters of the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation. Jane has successfully recovered from lung cancer — which affected her although she did not smoke and made sure she kept fit. In fact, she is a marathon runner and intends to be in the Snowdonia Marathon on October 28th.

“I am organising a church service to be held on Sunday October 22nd, at 2pm in St Peter’s Church, Lampeter,” said Steven. “It’s a bilingual inter-denominational service open to anyone affected by cancer.”

The service is called Pause for Hope after the charity of the same name founded by Professor Raymund Donnelly, whom  Jane and Steven met in 2015, and will be the first to be held in Wales. Local congregations, and Ysgol Bro Pedr, are supporting the event. Young people from the school will be singing and taking part in a poetry competition.

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Back after a Break

West Wales News Review will soon be back after a break of several months. The author has been fully occupied with a project titled ‘Affordable Homes and Sustainable Livelihoods in Rural Wales’ with the sub-title ‘Feasibility of a resilient neighbourhood at Llandovery’. The report of the project, commissioned by Calon Cymru Network, will be presented to a public meeting at the Castle Hotel, Llandovery, on Tuesday November 14th at 7pm.

On West Wales News Review there will be more to say about the scandal affecting investors in the Corran Resort, Laugharne. Investors bought fractional shares, or so they thought. Instead of benefiting purchasers, fractional ownership schemes have become an easy way to siphon money from unwary investors. British people buying fractions of properties in other EU countries are likely to find that Brexit will reduce their capacity to obtain redress in cases of fraud.

Also planned, an update on the ‘Wellness Village’ at Llanelli, looking at the prospects for investment by the private sector; the impact of Brexit on Welsh farmers; financial problems in the Wales NHS; and no doubt a great deal more.

It’s worth making the point that at present West Wales News Review is entirely a voluntary effort, with no funding whatsoever. This means that it is dependent on spare time.

 

Common Dreams’ Reign of Idiots

This ‘End of Empire’ essay by Chris Hedges, on the Common Dreams website, is a powerful and very dark piece of work. It’s not about West Wales, or even Wales, but the unstable world we all live in.

All empires end. Trouble is, when a global empire ends, civilisation can collapse with it.

Reprinted from https://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/05/01/reign-idiots

Reign of Idiots

Donald Trump. King of the horrifingly dumb and dangerously greedy

“Trump,” writes Hedges, “embodies the essence of this decayed, intellectually bankrupt and immoral world.”

The idiots take over in the final days of crumbling civilizations. Idiot generals wage endless, unwinnable wars that bankrupt the nation. Idiot economists call for reducing taxes for the rich and cutting social service programs for the poor, and project economic growth on the basis of myth. Idiot industrialists poison the water, the soil and the air, slash jobs and depress wages. Idiot bankers gamble on self-created financial bubbles and impose crippling debt peonage on the citizens. Idiot journalists and public intellectuals pretend despotism is democracy. Idiot intelligence operatives orchestrate the overthrow of foreign governments to create lawless enclaves that give rise to enraged fanatics. Idiot professors, “experts” and “specialists” busy themselves with unintelligible jargon and arcane theory that buttresses the policies of the rulers. Idiot entertainers and producers create lurid spectacles of sex, gore and fantasy.

There is a familiar checklist for extinction. We are ticking off every item on it.

The idiots know only one word—“more.” They are unencumbered by common sense. They hoard wealth and resources until workers cannot make a living and the infrastructure collapses. They live in privileged compounds where they eat chocolate cake and order missile strikes. They see the state as a projection of their vanity. The Roman, Mayan, French, Habsburg, Ottoman, Romanov, Wilhelmine, Pahlavi and Soviet dynasties crumbled because the whims and obsessions of ruling idiots were law.

Donald Trump is the face of our collective idiocy. He is what lies behind the mask of our professed civility and rationality—a sputtering, narcissistic, bloodthirsty megalomaniac. He wields armies and fleets against the wretched of the earth, blithely ignores the catastrophic human misery caused by global warming, pillages on behalf of global oligarchs and at night sits slack-jawed in front of a television set before opening his “beautiful” Twitter account. He is our version of the Roman emperor Nero, who allocated vast state expenditures to attain magical powers, the Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang, who funded repeated expeditions to a mythical island of immortals to bring back the potion that would give him eternal life, and a decayed Russian royalty that sat around reading tarot cards and attending séances as their nation was decimated by war and revolution brewed in the streets.

This moment in history marks the end of a long, sad tale of greed and murder by the white races. It is inevitable that for the final show we vomited a grotesque figure like Trump. Europeans and Americans have spent five centuries conquering, plundering, exploiting and polluting the earth in the name of human progress. They used their technological superiority to create the most efficient killing machines on the planet, directed against anyone and anything, especially indigenous cultures, that stood in their way. They stole and hoarded the planet’s wealth and resources. They believed that this orgy of blood and gold would never end, and they still believe it. They do not understand that the dark ethic of ceaseless capitalist and imperialist expansion is dooming the exploiters as well as the exploited. But even as we stand on the cusp of extinction we lack the intelligence and imagination to break free from our evolutionary past.

The more the warning signs are palpable—rising temperatures, global financial meltdowns, mass human migrations, endless wars, poisoned ecosystems, rampant corruption among the ruling class—the more we turn to those who chant, either through idiocy or cynicism, the mantra that what worked in the past will work in the future, that progress is inevitable. Factual evidence, since it is an impediment to what we desire, is banished. The taxes of corporations and the rich, who have deindustrialized the country and turned many of our cities into wastelands, are cut, and regulations are slashed to bring back the supposed golden era of the 1950s for white American workers. Public lands are opened up to the oil and gas industry as rising carbon emissions doom our species. Declining crop yields stemming from heat waves and droughts are ignored. War is the principal business of the kleptocratic state.

Walter Benjamin wrote in 1940 amid the rise of European fascism and looming world war:

A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned towards the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

Magical thinking is not limited to the beliefs and practices of pre-modern cultures. It defines the ideology of capitalism. Quotas and projected sales can always be met. Profits can always be raised. Growth is inevitable. The impossible is always possible. Human societies, if they bow before the dictates of the marketplace, will be ushered into capitalist paradise. It is only a question of having the right attitude and the right technique. When capitalism thrives, we are assured, we thrive. The merging of the self with the capitalist collective has robbed us of our agency, creativity, capacity for self-reflection and moral autonomy. We define our worth not by our independence or our character but by the material standards set by capitalism—personal wealth, brands, status and career advancement. We are molded into a compliant and repressed collective. This mass conformity is characteristic of totalitarian and authoritarian states. It is the Disneyfication of America, the land of eternally happy thoughts and positive attitudes. And when magical thinking does not work, we are told, and often accept, that we are the problem. We must have more faith. We must envision what we want. We must try harder. The system is never to blame. We failed it. It did not fail us.

All of our systems of information, from self-help gurus and Hollywood to political monstrosities such as Trump, sell us this snake oil. We blind ourselves to impending collapse. Our retreat into self-delusion is a career opportunity for charlatans who tell us what we want to hear. The magical thinking they espouse is a form of infantilism. It discredits facts and realities that defy the glowing cant of slogans such as “Make America great again.” Reality is banished for relentless and baseless optimism.

Half the country may live in poverty, our civil liberties may be taken from us, militarized police may murder unarmed citizens in the streets and we may run the world’s largest prison system and murderous war machine, but all these truths are studiously ignored. Trump embodies the essence of this decayed, intellectually bankrupt and immoral world. He is its natural expression. He is the king of the idiots. We are his victims.

Fraud Inaction

“Misunderstanding the role of Action Fraud appears to be rife” – inspectors

Fraud appears to be flourishing. Sophisticated criminals know that their chances of conviction are slim, and they are helped by failings in the police service – failings to which Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) has tried to draw attention.

The investment minefield that is fractional ‘ownership’ of hotel rooms, student flats and other accommodation came to West Wales News Review’s attention during investigations into the fate of close on £20 million paid to Kayboo Ltd for leases at The Corran Resort and Spa,  Laugharne, Carmarthenshire.

No authority seemed at all interested in investigating the fate of monies, including pension savings, which investors entrusted to Kayboo, a company now in liquidation. Investors looked to Action Fraud, a branch of the City of London Police, but Action Fraud opted for total inaction.

HMIC has sharply criticised Action Fraud. In ‘Real lives, real crimes: A study of digital crime and policing’, published in December 2015, the inspectors write (chapter 9, paragraphs 9.16-9.25):

  • During our study, we found very few police officers and staff who understood either their own roles and responsibilities or those of their force in relation to the investigation of fraud. In particular there was a lack of knowledge, at all ranks, regarding the functions of Action Fraud and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau.
  • “Consequently, the advice and support which the police should provide to the victims of such crime are poor. For example, on two occasions, in two separate forces, we were told by neighbourhood policing officers that they didn’t understand the process and they would advise victims who reported frauds to call 101.
  • “Misunderstanding the role of Action Fraud appears to be rife.
  • “We conducted a group discussion in one force with call handlers and enquiry desk staff who commented that they would:
    • “refer the victim direct to Action Fraud”;
    • “deploy a police officer to take a crime report from the victim”;
    • “transfer the victim to the criminal investigation department”;
    • “make an appointment for a police community support officer to speak to the victim”; and
    • “transfer the victim to the force economic crime unit”.
  • “This clear lack of understanding among many who come into contact with victims about the right procedure to adopt was consistent across most police forces which helped us in our study, both at tactical and strategic levels.
  • “Yet, all the forces which we visited had a nominated officer, at either detective sergeant or detective inspector level, to receive and manage those cases referred to the force from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau. He or she was responsible for the case management of the investigations and was fully aware of the way in which fraud cases should be reported to Action Fraud and of the response that could be expected from the bureau. However, it appeared that these officers did not carry sufficient weight to ensure that the remainder of police officers and staff in their forces were equally well informed.
  • “When we spoke to chief officers about National Fraud Intelligence Bureau referrals, they invariably directed us to those specialist middle-ranking officers. In all but one force, there was an absence of strategic leadership and direction, which resulted in a lack of performance management and priority setting in relation to the reporting and investigation of fraud.
  • “The numbers of crimes reported to Action Fraud annually have more than doubled since 2013. Despite this, fewer than 50 percent of forces regularly assess the impact of fraud in their strategic risk assessments. (See: National Fraud Capability Survey”, national police coordinator for economic crime, March 2015, page 10.)
  • “We are aware that the National Police Co-ordinator for Economic Crime wrote to every chief constable in March 2015 highlighting best practice. In his letter, he stressed that the entire process needed to be “owned by an accountable chief officer”. He asked that every force notify him of its nominated chief officer.
  • “By August 2015, he had received only 14 responses out of a possible 43.”

Reporting fraud to Action Fraud is difficult, and pointless if no one investigates. And how can you properly report complex fraud via an online form or a call centre?

One-stop fraud reporting may have appeared a brilliant labour-saving idea, but it doesn’t work.

Who benefits? The fraudsters!

Easter Break

West Wales News Review is taking a break over Easter — back at the end of April

Action Fraud Didn’t Answer the Phone

Investors in The Corran Resort and Spa, Laugharne, have lost almost £20 million due to opaque and unethical business practices, such as buying non-existent property on land the vendor did not own, and they feel their plight is not recognised and is not being investigated.

The Financial Conduct Authority had a look at Kayboo, the former owner of some of the property at the hotel site near Laugharne, but investors tell me they are unaware of any findings. They are in the dark.

I have tried to ask for an investigation myself, but  without success. Dyfed Powys Police seemed a good starting point, but their website has firm instructions to contact Action Fraud.

That’s easier said than done. I wanted to speak to a person who could give me further directions, not complete an online form that might drop into an abyss, and rang 0300 123 2040, the phone number prominently featured on the Action Fraud website. I phoned three times, and each time got a recorded message “we apologise for not being able to answer your call”, followed by swift disconnection.

So I tried online chat, and after six minutes an agent called ‘Shannon’ asked me to state the issue. After a couple of lines of typing, a message flashed up, “Too many characters, try again”. How do you state a complex problem in a Twitter-length message? I split the message in two, and Shannon typed back to say I should ring the telephone number!

Circles, mazes, no way forward. Investors had already told me that Action Fraud didn’t seem concerned.

I’ll try again, but maybe dodgy dealings and fraud are so entrenched in our financial system that there is no realistic hope of rooting them out.

What a sad state of affairs.

PDR

We have reported on The Corran several times, e.g. https://westwalesnewsreview.wordpress.com/2017/03/11/financial-conduct-authority-has-investigated-corran-company/https://westwalesnewsreview.wordpress.com/2017/02/26/beware-opaque-investments/https://westwalesnewsreview.wordpress.com/2017/02/19/corrans-tangled-webintentional-misrepresentation/https://westwalesnewsreview.wordpress.com/2017/01/27/sunk-investments-drown-in-carmarthenshire-marsh/

Know Your Place! Don’t Annoy Big Shots!

The dangers inherent in upsetting people who are richer and more powerful than you have not been removed from our particular political system.

This week Jacqui Thompson, the Llanwrda blogger who in 2011 was arrested, handcuffed and detained for trying to film part of a public council meeting on her mobile phone, was in court to argue against the immediate forced sale of her family home, owned by her husband, forestry worker Kerry, and herself.

The court appearance was the latest episode in the long-running conflict between Carmarthenshire County Council’s chief executive Mark James, one of the highest paid government officials in Wales, and housewife and (unpaid) community councillor Jacqui.

Mr James secured a publicly funded indemnity to sue Jacqui for libel, specifically for calling him a Pinocchio and for referring to a slush fund.  His action was in response to Jacqui’s  high-risk decision to sue him for libel, after he had criticised her and her family on another blog, Madaxeman, run by Mr Martin Milan.

A key factor is the elected councillors’ decision to offer an indemnity for Mr James’ libel claim. The Wales Audit Office said this was unlawful, and it is forbidden in The Local Authorities (Indemnities for Members and Officers) (Wales) (Order) 2006 — but apparently allowed under a catch-all clause of Section 111 of the much earlier Local Government Act 1972, which permits  authorities to do “anything (whether or not involving expenditure …… ) which is calculated to facilitate or is conducive or incidental to the discharge of any of its functions”. Even rob a bank, perhaps, the wording is so permissive. The council relied on the loophole contained in the 1972 Act, as described in People First’s article below:

http://www.peoplefirstwales.org.uk/2016_11_01_archive.html

The Executive Board meeting which agreed to the indemnity, as reported above, heard that any damages would be paid to the council (paragraph 12, sub-section i).

    “(i) The Head of Paid Service has confirmed that he is not motivated by a wish to benefit financially and that accordingly should his action be successful any damages awarded to him will be paid over to the Authority and will not be kept by him.”

Mr Justice Tugendhat, at that point soon to retire, awarded Mr James damages. In his opinion — and libel is often all about opinion, about balance of probabilities, not hard evidence — Mr James was all right and Jacqui was all wrong. The judge’s words prompted Jacqui’s insurers to cancel her conditional fee agreement, leaving her personally liable for every £. She cannot pay it all, even if the family’s bungalow (which has an agricultural tie) is sold.

Last week the judge in the County Court, Carmarthen, declined to allow Mr James permission to sell the house immediately. Instead, there is a ten-year stay of execution, and Jacqui has to pay £250 a month towards the damages bill of £25,000 plus interest and fees, a total around £36,000 before the County Court hearing. The total now exceeds that by over £14,000, because the judge added the latest fees to the damages. Even so, it’s not as much as the nearly £22,000 which Mr James’ team wanted.

Mr James was supposed to pay damages over to the council. That was the arrangement when the indemnity was agreed. Yet last week he appeared to have changed his mind. The court heard, through his counsel, that he could “stuff the money in the gutter” if he wanted.  That’s not what the Executive Board agreed to!

Elections are coming, on May 4th. The Executive Board will have some changes due to retirements, and perhaps after the vote there will be a completely fresh line-up. Hopefully the new board will remind themselves of paragraph 12, sub-section i.

Especially as residents all over the county are looking at their new Council Tax bills and wincing.

PDR

 

 

 

Rubbishing Alternative Facts

Announcing the closure of the Llangadog recycling centre, operated by All Waste Services, Carmarthenshire County Council’s busy press office stated “Alternative arrangements are being made to provide recycling banks for residents at Llandovery Rugby Club”.

Not alternative at all, according to the rugby club, which has issued a sternly worded statement as follows:

“When CCC [Carmarthenshire County Council] approached the Rugby Club seeking an additional location for recycling skips in the Llandovery area the Club’s Directors asked whether it had anything to do with the future of the service available in Llangadog and we were assured by CCC officers that there was a need for additional facilities in Llandovery and the approach had nothing to do with the facility in Llangadog.

“The Club was willing to accommodate the request as it meant additional facilities for Llandovery and surrounding area.

“The Club was not aware that the Llangadog facility was closing until a press release was issued by CCC. We were not consulted on the wording of the press release issued by CCC which can be interpreted as implying that the new unit at the Rugby Club replaces the Llangadog facility.”

Llandovery Rugby Club’s statement also makes clear that cans, glass and paper will be the only materials recycled there, and urges the county council to “identify, at the earliest opportunity, adequate recycling facilities for the communities around Llandovery”.

The council’s unfortunate press release highlights the dangers of reporting to cast the best possible light upon events.

In this case, the rugby club saw not illumination but a mirage.

Alternative facts? A less polite term may come to mind.

 

Scarlets Plunge Deeper into Debt

Directors Remain Optimistic

The disappointing financial repercussions of the Scarlets’ super-sized stadium at Trostre, Llanelli, threaten the capability of Scarlets Regional Ltd to continue as a going concern, in the view of auditors Broomfield & Alexander.

The accounts for the year to June 30th 2016 show a pre-tax loss of more than £1.5 million, 50% greater than the previous year’s loss of just over £1 million.

The directors have invested in players, and the Scarlets have played pretty well in the current season. They stand 5th in the Pro 12 at the time of writing, below Leinster, Ospreys, Munster and Ulster – but 5th is not 1st, and there is still a way to go.

Broomfield & Alexander point out that, at the end of June 2016, the company’s net current liabilities exceeded assets by £2.718 million. In their view, this indicated “the existence of a material uncertainty which may cast significant doubt about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern”.

The auditors also question the £9.394 million value of the stadium as reported in the accounts, the implication being that the valuation is too high and may be impossible to realise if Scarlets Regional runs out of money. The stadium, which opened in November 2008, cost £23 million to build.

Despite the Scarlets playing lively rugby, the average gate for Pro 12 home matches in 2015-16 was 7,353, including the 4,000 or so season ticket holders, although the stadium can seat 14,870. The wide expanses of empty seats show that the claim ‘build it and customers will come’, a refrain which has been heard inside Carmarthenshire County Council, is wide of the mark.

The Scarlets owe the county council £2.614 million, which is due for repayment in 2023. Total equity in the rugby company continues to fall and at June 30th 2016 was down to £2.640 million, against £3.826 million a year earlier and £4.169 million the year before that. The county council’s investment on behalf of the people of Carmarthenshire is looking uncertain, despite the fact that a top notch rugby side brings non-financial benefits such as sporting confidence and local pride.

The board of directors, who have dug deep into their pockets to keep the rugby region going, remain optimistic, according to the accounts. Chairman Nigel Short, of Penderyn Distillery, wrote of the board’s determination to “continue to invest in development of talent”, although this had led and could well lead again to the business making a loss.

The directors “have a reasonable expectation that the company has adequate resources to continue in operation for the foreseeable future”, they report in the accounts.

Those resources are likely to include more of their own money. Perhaps a lot more.

Financial Conduct Authority has Investigated Corran Company

Down on the marshes at The Corran Resort and Spa, Laugharne, at the development into which investors – including pension savers — poured over £19 million and lost nearly all of it, the hotel management are advertising multiple job vacancies, for a receptionist, therapists, housekeeping supervisor, spa cleaner, and food and beverage team members.

The recruitment boom comes after the Financial Conduct Authority has investigated former owner Kayboo Ltd.

Keith Stiles, a director of the insolvent Kayboo, bought the hotel through his new company Glendore Real Estate Ltd for £150,000 in a pre-pack deal just before Kayboo went into administration.

The administrators, HBG Corporate, took over on October 18th 2016 but are now seeking creditors’ permission transfer the steaming hot potato to Robert Dymond and Lisa Hogg of Wilson Field Ltd of Sheffield, for a creditors’ voluntary liquidation.

Liquidation has been held up since November, while the Financial Conduct Authority investigated “various matters surrounding the company”. The results of their investigations have not been revealed.

Not that there is much left to liquidate. The administrators say that “For the period 12 November 2016 to 8 March 2017, the Joint Administrators have received £33 of interest into the estate bank account, held for the benefit of the creditors.”

HBG Corporate clocked up £47,975 in fees — £17,000 of which have been paid — and £33,753.31 in disbursements, totalling £81,728.31. Administering a bust company is an expensive business.

For previous history see, for example, here, here, and here

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