West Wales News Review — analysis with a sustainability slant

Wellness Village Wobble?

Two of the six directors of Sterling Health Security Holdings Ltd, the private-sector company sourcing investment for the proposed Wellness and Life Science Village at Llanelli, have resigned.

They are cardiologist Dr Phyllis Holt-Dickmann and Swansea entrepreneur Kevin Smith.

Sterling Health Security Holdings, owned by Phyllis Holt-Dickmann and Franz Hermann Dickmann, is Carmarthenshire County Council’s private-sector partner in the £250 million ‘Wellness Village’ plans for low-lying Delta Lakes, on the coast at Llanelli.  The company is a resurrected version of the dissolved Kent Neurosciences Ltd, the county council’s original putative partner in the project.

The four remaining directors are Franz Dickmann, James Dickmann, Rupert Knight Harrison and former Carmarthenshire County Council leader, Meryl Gravell.

Kevin Smith’s entry on the professional website LinkedIn says he is the founder or co-founder of six technology healthcare and wellbeing ventures since 2000. He attended Penlan Comprehensive School between 1975 and 1980, and then Swansea Institute of Higher Education, where he studied mechanical engineering. He did not serve on the board of Kent Neurosciences, but the Dickmanns did.

Sterling Health Security Holdings had a negative value of £137,722 at October 31st 2017, according to the published accounts, and the company is dependent on a loan from the directors.

The director who seems to specialise in finding finance is Rupert Knight Harrison, also managing partner of Tower Growth Management LLP, a small company started in November 2016 and showing a marginal operating loss of £4,019 in its first trading period, to December 31st 2017.

Rupert achieved the International Baccalaureate in 1978 at UWC Atlantic College, St Donat’s Castle, Llantwit Major, speaks German, has bachelor and masters law degrees from the University of London, and barrister experience at the Inns of Court School of Law.

So far, any major successes in attracting investment into the Wellness Village have not been publicised or quantified.

The Llanelli project was thought up before Hywel Dda University Health Board revealed its money-saving plans involving the removal of acute and emergency care from Withybush Hospital, Haverfordwest, and West Wales General, Glangwili, Carmarthen. Hywel Dda has overspent its budget by more than £150 million in the past three years, has both acute and chronic difficulties in attracting permanent staff, and is also a partner in the Wellness Village, alongside Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board and Swansea University.

Just a thought, wouldn’t it make better use of resources to invest in protecting the existing, under-funded health services in West Wales, instead of seeking to promote a speculative new venture?



Liquidators Hunt Down Destinations of Corran Cash

Investors’ heavy losses

Liquidators for Kayboo Ltd, the bust company originally set up to develop The Corran Hotel and Spa at Laugharne, Carmarthenshire, have identified 441 unsecured creditors, owed almost £11 million. The total amount lost by investors is reckoned to be around £17 million.

The liquidators’ costly work has been complicated by the cavalier financial practices employed by Kayboo.

Robert Dymond and Lisa Hogg, of Sheffield solicitors Wilson Field, reported this summer that there are “various investigation issues that the joint liquidators are currently reviewing, including the pre-packaged sale of the business, the dissemination of funds, potential misselling of the investments, and failure to register the property titles at the Land Registry”.

Investors in The Corran thought they were buying whole hotel rooms or fractions of rooms in a hotel undergoing major expansion, but a proposed development of holiday lodges was refused planning permission and hundreds of investors received nothing at all. (For more on the history, see for example here, here, here and here.)

The liquidators say they analysed more than 10 bank accounts of the companies and associated parties. ‘The companies’ refers to Kayboo and sister company East Marsh Operational Co Ltd, which ran the hotel side of the business.


“Highly complex and time-consuming task”

“It should be noted that the companies utilised a number of bank accounts that were not held in the companies’ names, which has in turn made the tracing of funds through the companies a highly complex and time-consuming task,” the liquidators reported. “Our analysis revealed numerous intercompany transactions and payments to connected parties and individuals.”

Those connected parties and individuals are not being named yet because “the investigations may lead to legal action and therefore there is limited disclosure of information in order not to prejudice any subsequent legal action”.

So far, the liquidators have traced £12.39 million of investors’ funds coming in to the numerous bank accounts. The figure excludes payments in by cheque because the cheque originators are not shown on bank statements.

The exotic travels of payments from investors included:

  • £2.276 million paid to “a corporate entity connected by way of common shareholders and directors”. That entity is now in a creditors’ voluntary liquidation. A director offered the explanation that ‘payments were paid to the company to facilitate the distribution of investor payments on behalf of the company’.
  • Another £1.884 million went to another connected corporate entity, also in creditors’ voluntary liquidation. Kayboo’s liquidators submitted a claim to the corporate entity’s liquidators, only to be presented with a counter-claim for £1.391 million for “legitimate commission agreements” outstanding when Kayboo was folded.
  • The liquidators also refer to “commission payments made to numerous other parties”.
  • £1.768 million went to a non-connected corporate entity also in creditors’ voluntary liquidation. This liquidator of the non-connected entity said the payments were genuine commissions .After considerable reluctance, this entity’s records were provided, but were “not as comprehensive as anticipated, given the level of transactions with the companies”. The next step was to be an analysis of bank accounts to try and determine if the funds received in were paid out to “any connected parties”.
  • A particular individual connected to Kayboo received £649,290. That individual proffered an entitlement to sales commission and said they were still owed around £500,000!

The money gushing to commission agents suggests that precious little was left to actually build the hotel. The whole venture appears designed as a money-spinner, but for its creators and not for investors.

Investors in fractions of hotel rooms were also paying for the administration of the companies set up to manage those fractions. The liquidators found £355,000 paid to one entity for administration of the fractional companies formed to manage leases of rooms in The Corran. This seems extremely generous considering that only THREE leases had been registered when Kayboo’s financial frailty resulted in its failure.

Kayboo made several other payments, detailed in the liquidators’ report, chiefly to entities “now subject to insolvency proceedings themselves”. The task of obtaining any redress for misled investors seems immense.  Apart from the rapid, apparently deliberate, syphoning away of investors’ monies, the liquidators’ forensic work is expensive, ranging from £500 an hour for directors and insolvency practitioners down  to £130 per hour for secretarial and support work.


Hotel bought back for £150,000

In October 2016 Keith Stiles, a director of Kayboo, managed to convince HBG Corporate Ltd of Preston, Lancashire, the insolvency practitioner that Kayboo chose, to let him buy the hotel back for just £150,000 in a ‘pre-packaged’ deal, through a new company, Glendore Real Estate Ltd, incorporated in February 2016. The directors in addition to Mr Stiles were Paul Manley and County West Secretarial Services Ltd, of which Mr Manley was also a director. Glendore now is at risk of being struck off the register of companies because its accounts have not been submitted. The original directors have resigned and the sole director currently is a Mr Paolo Di Petro. Plustocks Ltd, which took over the hotel operations from East Marsh Operational Co Ltd, was dissolved in April 2017.

Investors’ anger at Glendore’s super-bargain purchase was an important factor in their decision to oppose the decisions being made by HBG, and to secure alternative liquidators who are readier to listen to their concerns.  HBG appeared to be treating the insolvency as the failure of a hotel business, not as the failure of an unregulated investment scheme.


Money-losing pensions

Many investors put in money via SIPPs, self-invested personal pensions, or SSASes, small self-administered schemes for directors and companies. One of the names linking The Corran with pension investments is Rowanmoor, of Salisbury, Wiltshire, part of the Embark Group since July 2016. The major shareholder in Embark Group is Richard Wohanka, among whose directorships are Scottish Widows Group and several other companies within the Lloyds Banking Group, and other well-known active and defunct financial services institutions.

The name Rowanmoor has also cropped up in connection with fractional property sales by The Resort Group in the Cape Verde Islands, because the fees they charge have perplexed pension investors who are losing money on their illiquid and often nebulous purchases.


Who owns The Corran now?

James Brown, known as Jamie Brown, brought The Corran, then Hurst House Hotel, into the headlines for the wrong reasons when he was staying there in 2011.

Glasgow-born Jamie had apparently made large sums of money through property deals in Portugal and retired aged 36. He developed a cocaine habit which destroyed his nose.

He was arrested in December 2011 while driving a convertible Bentley. Police found cocaine hidden in the roof, and in Hurst House retrieved three unlicensed guns – a 9mm semi-automatic Walther PPI pistol, a 9mm Tula Tokarev semi-automatic pistol from Russia, and a rifle. There was also a stock of ammunition.

In September 2012, aged 45, he received a five-year prison sentence.

The Corran is at present in the hands of Corran Resorts Ltd, a new company dating from November 23rd 2017 and with a registered address in Riverside Business Park, Swansea.

The owner of Corran Resorts Ltd now, in October 2018, is a Mr James Brown, born in December 1966 and currently 51 years old.



Investors Fleeced in Financial Wild West

Lack of protection for individuals investing in new hotels and holiday resorts is a serious problem, emerging from a financial Wild West where it is unwise to rely on any law at all. Often investors are at the bottom of the pecking order and receive little, if anything, after everyone above them has taken a cut.

West Wales News Review has reported several times on the plight of investors in The Corran Resort and Spa, Laugharne, Carmarthenshire (here, here, here and here for example), who lost some £17 million net, and also on hotel investments in Wales sold by Northern Powerhouse Developments (here), including unbuilt properties in the Afan Valley where the site did not even have planning permission (here).

In many hotel investment schemes, people can purchase what they think is a fraction of a room or apartment.

Some key persons in The Corran saga appear in other complex fractional deals sold to private investors. One is David Bates, chartered accountant of Heswall, Wirral, Merseyside. Hundreds of fractional investment property companies were registered to Mr Bates’ address until this year, when there was a sudden, mass switch to Milestone House, Nursery Court, Kibworth Harcourt, Leicestershire, an address of tax consultant David Warren Hannah, founder of Cornerstone Tax Ltd.

David Bates is, according to Companies House, a director of only two companies currently instead of around 1,570 previously. That large number of mainly fractional property companies included Dunas Beach Apartment 107 Ltd.

Dunas Beach is a resort on Sal island in Cape Verde, an independent group of islands in the Atlantic just over 300 miles west of Senegal. Andrew Walton, who has contacted West Wales News Review, had thought his July 2011 investment in Dunas Beach Apartment 107 Ltd had purchased one-eighth of an apartment. The purchase was off plan as at that time the resort had not been built.

But Dunas Beach Apartment 107 Ltd seems to own nothing at all. The last published accounts, dated April 30th 2017, show it has no value and no assets. Neither does it have shares, therefore investors cannot own shares in it and cannot receive dividends. The company is limited by guarantee, a legal form generally adopted by non-for-profit organisations. If the company fails, its members are required to contribute only a pre-determined amount.

Companies House lists the controller of Dunas Beach Apartment 107 Ltd as Robert Jarrett. He is the founder of The Resort Group plc, a British man with a home in Gibraltar, where The Resort Group is registered. He founded the company in 2007 and on Sal bought land for two beach resorts, Tortuga and Dunas. The Dunas Beach resort opened in 2014, managed by Melia Hotels International.

Mr Walton says he was told verbally he would receive between 5% and 7% annually on his investment of £21,179.11, so between £1,059 and £1,482. Over seven years that would be between £7,413 and £10,374. A return of 5% to 7% would be excellent in today’s climate, but not so high as to flag up, automatically, a ‘too good to be true’ warning.

The reality is somewhat different, though  –  a loss of just on £1,045.

His investment is a SIPP, a self-invested personal pension. He was alerted to the possibilities of a SIPP investment in commercial property by Consumer Money Matters Ltd. This firm introduced him to Real SIPP LLC, owned by CIB (Life & Pensions) Ltd. Real SIPP sold him one eighth of what he thought was a hotel room, but which turned out to be membership of a company without any assets.

Consumer Money Matters went into administration in October 2015. Real SIPP was dissolved in September 2017 and CIB (Life and Pensions) in February 2018. Rowanmoor, part of the Embark Group, took over administration of Real SIPP’s portfolio, including Andrew Walton’s pension.

The gross ‘room revenue’ from Mr Walton’s ‘apartment’ has Melia’s operational costs deducted. Rowanmoor charges fees, and The Resort Group takes a cut. Dunas Beach Apartment 107 Ltd also charges a fee (although it does not appear to have any turnover at all).

The investor is right at the end of the line and in Mr Walton’s case, he is paying out instead of receiving any income.

He is not alone. The magazine FT Adviser reported on June 28th 2018 (‘Offshore investor returns eaten up by Sipp fees’) on the plight of a number of investors in property built for The Resort Group. They are making losses and unable to get their money back or sell their investment. Even if a marketplace in membership of fractional companies were established, a queue of buyers is unlikely.

Fractional property investments are not regulated, so it is definitely Buyer Beware. Investors may qualify for a portion of net income from ‘their fraction’ of a room, apartment or villa, but do not own any physical asset at all. They are probably presented with figures, but it is pretty much impossible for them to know if those figures are genuine.

In Mr Walton’s case, the fees charged by Rowanmoor are greater than the net revenue apparently due to him, so his pension investment has lost money and he does not know if he can ever recover his capital.

Comments on Trip Adviser indicate that the Dunas Beach resort is far from crowded. Reassuring noises from The Resort Group suggest they expect room occupancy rates and therefore income to increase, but they may be over-optimistic about the attractions of holidaying on a small island known for salt pans and moon-like scenery. Holidaymakers go for the beaches and sun – there’s not a great range of activities on Sal, which is less than 19 miles long and is under eight miles at its widest point.

Investors like Mr Walton, who were persuaded to put pension money into unregulated products divorced from actual assets, have a case to claim mis-selling. He contacted the Pensions Ombudsman in December 2016, and some months later was told an adjudicator would investigate. That adjudicator went on sick leave and by February 2018 had left, so Mr Walton had to start all over again, with no result yet.

As at The Corran, investors in Dunas Beach and hundreds of other fractional investments are confronted by opaque, obscure arrangements which appear deliberately designed to prevent oversight of investment performance.

Investing in fractions of other people’s holidays seems a very good way to ensure you won’t be able to afford a whole holiday yourself!


Investors who have lost money in pension transfers into unregulated ‘products’ are raising funds to engage a firm of private investigators.

Businessman Outmanoeuvres Council

Ffynnon Luan, a rather dilapidated but grassy green 35-acre smallholding near Maesybont, Carmarthenshire, was up for auction in 2014. The buyer was local businessman Andrew Thomas, whose farm at Blaenpant, Maesybont, has featured several times in West Wales News Review (here, here and here, for example, showing how successfully he has outmanoeuvred the county council).

This is what Ffynnon Luan looked like from the air before Mr Thomas acquired it.

Ffynnon Luan farmhouse is in the central zone of the photo above the strip of woodland, and surrounded by small hedged fields. The photo was submitted with an agricultural planning application. 

Then this happened — scraping away the surface on a Ffynnon Luan section of the carboniferous limestone ridge south of the river Tywi. Carboniferous limestone is, of course, a valuable rock, used for roadstone and aggregates, and for making cement, and when ground-up it helps desulphurize flue gases.

Surface scraped at Ffynnon Luan. Photo from Google Earth. 

Ffynnon Luan had a new road, about 3.5 metres wide 550 metres long, constructed across the farm to the B4297 Dryslwyn to Gorslas road, as an addition to the original access onto a single-track lane. Mr Thomas’s planning consultants, JCR Planning, told Carmarthenshire’s planning committee as part of a retrospective application (the work had already started) that “it is proposed to solely use this access for heavy vehicles transporting livestock, feeds and implements to Ffynnon Luan as part of the restoration of agriculture at this holding”. Without the new road, vehicles would have to use the lane, which lacks passing places and is flanked by deep drainage ditches, JCR Planning argued.

Removing the surface of farmland is not what most of us understand by agriculture, but Ffynnon Luan has received only agricultural planning permission, for the road and for a recent steel-framed building to house 100 beef cattle, for which an application was submitted in 2017.

This is the building.

Lots of space for heavy lorries and wagons, and a large multi-purpose building. 

The scraped land is green again, according to a local resident, but lorries still go backwards and forwards along the broad farm road. In 2015, a year after Mr Thomas bought the property, a neighbour wrote to Carmarthenshire County Council complaining about “noise, disturbance and the danger of lorries going at speed, back and forth to the site, carrying earth and boulders”.

Mr Thomas is a long-established businessman who owns AJT Recycling Ltd, with a scrap materials yard in Fforestfach, Swansea and shareholders’ funds of almost £920,000 at the end of November 2017, almost double the previous year’s total.

The issue is not so much what is happening on Ffynnon Luan now, but the fact that the farm has not received planning permission for anything except purely agricultural activities.

Even if some believe that planning controls are unnecessary, is it fair to turn a blind eye in some circumstances but not others? I have only to think of the case of Mr Andrew Redman, who was forced by Carmarthenshire’s planners to remove a livestock shelter on skids from a field, although usually such shelters do not require permission.

PDR, expressing a personal opinion


Did Austerity Push Wales Towards Brexit?

All those £ millions from the EU, yet Wales voted for Brexit! “What ingratitude,” I can imagine the mutterings in Brussels and Strasbourg. “Don’t they know where their bread is buttered?”

With around €3 billion coming into Wales from the EU between 2014 and 2020 – about €1,000 or £885 per person – the ‘No’ vote was inexplicable, surely? Well, direct subsidies paid to farmers are about £235 million a year, so the wider public can be excused from not noticing them. That leaves £442 million or so, not far off £150 a head, in annual ‘structural funds’ which are intended to improve the Welsh economy.

Most of the money goes to West Wales and the Valleys, the least affluent parts of the country, and there is no guarantee at all that the UK government will replace it.

I have heard it said that EU money has been spent unwisely because West Wales has stubbornly refused to become more prosperous. I have tried to consider this in a little more detail, albeit in microcosm, and in June and July looked at the projects in Pembrokeshire – right out west – which have benefited from LEADER funding since 2014. The LEADER scheme (Liaison Entre Actions de Développement de l’Economie Rurale, or Links between Actions for Developing the Rural Economy) in Pembrokeshire is managed by PLANED, the Pembrokeshire Local Action Network for Enterprise and Development. I put the projects into a spreadsheet and was quite startled by the result.

Almost £1 million was destined for ‘new ways of delivering non-statutory local services’ during the years 2014-20. At the half-way stage, 78% of that had been allocated, compared with just 19% of a similar amount for ‘pre-commercial development, business partnerships, and short supply chains’.

Non-statutory local services are exactly what local authorities have been struggling to provide. Pembrokeshire increased council tax by 12.5% for 2018-19 to compensate for a £16 million funding gap. There is definitely no money for expanding services to keep a step ahead of the needs of an ageing population. This is where European money comes in, shoring up struggling public services rather than developing the economy and creating well-paid jobs for local people.

We have, for example, a project for elder and end-of-life care which has received £14,909; £27,458 for a care prevention programme; £9,840 towards the employment of a community development worker; £14,963 to investigate how to support refugees; £176,227 for the development of a preventative care agenda; and several more. Worthy projects all, but focused on community health and cohesion rather than on economic development. Most of the recipients of LEADER cash in Pembrokeshire, 77% overall, are voluntary ‘third sector’ organisations and another 16% are public-sector bodies. Private sector firms amount to only 7% of the total.

One can argue that the European money is mainly replacing what would have been done in the past by local government and the NHS, before austerity hit, and that this is one factor contributing to the ‘No’ vote because people did not notice any improvements in their lives resulting from EU membership.

Austerity probably contributed more than many politicians imagine to the Brexit decision.



Who Can Best Lead Plaid on the Long March Beyond the Heartlands?

Who has the best chance to take the whole of Wales forward into an equitable, resilient future?

That’s the question I’m asking myself, a party member, as the Plaid Cymru leadership election nears its end.

Yesterday’s hustings in Carmarthen, which almost filled St Peter’s Civic Hall with Plaid members, was right on the doorstep of challenger Adam Price’s Assembly constituency of Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, but the applause was shared between all three contenders. Maybe support for Adam was sometimes louder, but not overwhelmingly so. Plaid members are very polite and gave all three an attentive hearing.

Dramatis personae

Adam Price (50 in September 2018)  He tried unsuccessfully to persuade current leader Leanne Wood to accept joint leadership so that there would be a man and a woman at the apex of the party, before deciding on a leadership challenge.

MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr from 2001 to 2010, he was far from an anonymous figure, being often in the news and especially for seeking to impeach Tony Blair for taking the UK to war in Iraq on a false prospectus. He was not afraid then – and is not now – of sticking his head above the parapet. He had high visibility as a politician on the national stage, and secured several awards including ‘Communicator of the Year’ in 2007. He did not seek re-election in 2010, instead travelling to the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Then in May 2016 he returned to politics in the Welsh Assembly, winning the seat for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr vacated by Rhodri Glyn Thomas’s decision not to stand again. He has a vision for an independent Wales by 2030.

Leanne Wood (46)  Elected leader of Plaid Cymru in 2012 in a contest against Elin Jones (the current Presiding Officer of the Assembly) and Dafydd Elis Thomas, Leanne gained UK-wide exposure in the general election campaign of 2015, appearing on debate platforms alongside Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP and the other main UK party leaders.

An Assembly Member since 2003, she was list member for South Wales Central until winning the constituency seat of Rhondda in 2016 – a huge achievement because Rhondda was Labour through-and-through and still has a Labour MP, the former Church of England vicar Chris Bryant. Leanne is a republican socialist who foregrounds community action and a sustainable green future. She is not a fiery orator but speaks from the heart.

Rhun ap Iorwerth (46)  Rhun was victorious in the 2013 by-election for an assembly member to represent Ynys Môn, replacing Ieuan Wyn Jones, who resigned for career reasons. He’s a highly experienced TV journalist and communicator, and as he says, now has the largest majority (9,510) for any constituency member of the Assembly. Born near Pontypridd, his childhood was in Meirionnydd and Anglesey, and he travelled widely in his work. As recently as June 12th Rhun was quoted as saying he had no plans for a leadership challenge, but he had changed his mind by July 4th. He seems less specific than Adam or Leanne about what he would or would not do as leader, and refuses to rule out a deal with the Conservatives.

Helen Mary Jones, who rejoined the Assembly in August after the resignation of Simon Thomas, was in the chair.


Plaid’s western ribbon

No qualms about the capabilities of all three as leaders, but do they all have an equal likelihood of expanding the Plaid vote outside the Welsh-language heartlands of Carmarthen, Ceredigion, Gwynedd and Môn, the western coastal belt except for (largely English-speaking) Pembrokeshire? Plaid’s Westminster MPs – Jonathan Edwards, Ben Lake, Liz Saville Roberts and Hywel Williams – have constituencies forming a ribbon south to north from Ammanford to Caernarfon.

The challenge is to break out beyond this heartland to the rest of Wales where the majority of people live, to win in the cities and the old industrial valleys. Leanne has shown she can do this. She is not from Welsh-speaking Wales, she has already expanded the party’s influence, but in a country dominated by the Labour brand for decades, that’s a slow process. In English-speaking Wales, there are still many people who regard Plaid as the Welsh-speakers party, a sort of political Cymdeithas yr Iaith. In the hustings yesterday the great majority of members present, I would guess 80%, did not use translation equipment, indicating that they were fluent Welsh speakers. Even in Carmarthenshire fewer than half of adult residents have full Welsh-language competence, so the gathering was demographically different from the population at large.

What about English speakers?

Most people living in Wales cannot speak Welsh. They amount to 72% of all aged 3+according to 2017-18 figures. Among young people and adults aged 16+, 81% cannot speak Welsh fluently, and Plaid will have to appeal to this majority if the party is to win more seats in the Assembly. At the last elections in 2016, Labour won 34.7% of the vote, the Conservatives 21.1% and Plaid 20.5%. Plaid holds only 10 of the 60 seats, while Labour has 29. Just five of Plaid’s 10, including the three leadership contenders, are constituency winners, and the other five, chosen by proportional representation, sit for regions.

No surprise that Adam and Rhun are impatient to expand the vote. Rhun stressed that the party must broaden its appeal, Adam urged more dynamism. By implication they were accusing Leanne of being too narrow and too static. But would a leader from the Plaid ribbon in the west be the best placed to persuade urban Wales to change allegiances, and even join the party?

The final question at the hustings was from a young man who said he joined to do politics in a different way, but was aware of the perception that Plaid is for Welsh speakers. How would the three change this? Rhun said the party is for everyone, Adam felt it has always been inclusive. Leanne stressed an international outlook, defence of minorities, the dangers of the rise of the far Right. She has a more comprehensive Left agenda than her challengers, I think, based on communities making their own decisions within a framework that has to be sustainable. People know where she stands. She has ruled out, for example, any coalition with the Conservatives. Adam positions Plaid as equidistant between Conservatives and Labour, maybe not the easiest position to define, and would not want a coalition with either. Rhun will not rule out a Plaid-Conservative agreement, but what would that mean for green, equality-promoting policies?

Conflicted choices

I am conflicted about the choice. Rhun is driven and determined, Adam has the power of oratory and the broadest political experience, but both are associated more than Leanne with Welsh-speaking Wales. Leanne’s politics appeal the most to me personally but is Wales ready for green co-operative socialism right now? Even so, I think Leanne has the best chance of continuing to widen Plaid’s appeal to English-speaking urban Wales, but for that to work the whole band of Plaid AMs has to be right behind her.

A Plaid with wider support across the nation will, ironically perhaps, be better placed to promote the future strength of our priceless Welsh language, culture and heritage.

For sure, Wales will not achieve comprehensive independent policy-making without the enthusiastic participation of both Welsh speakers and English speakers, across cities, towns and rural areas alike.


Hywel Dda is Squashed between a Rock and a Very Hard Place

Hywel Dda University Local Health Board’s controversial reorganisation proposals, including options to downgrade the general hospitals at Withybush, Haverfordwest and Glangwili, Carmarthen, and to build a new hospital on the Carmarthenshire-Pembrokeshire border, led to widespread public consultation between April and July this year. Results of the consultation have just been released, in a 420-page report.

The main conclusion I can draw is that Hywel Dda, responsible for medical services in Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion, is squashed between a rock and a very hard place, and is being asked to do the impossible — cutting costs while also offering adequate medical care to the ageing population of West Wales.

Shortages of suitably qualified permanent medical staff are endemic in the Hywel Dda region, but a brand new hospital might attract some super-skilled medics. That seems to be part of the theory.

Here in Llansawel, 20 or so miles north-east of Carmarthen, the community council submitted a letter to the consultation. The contents have not made their way into the 420 pages, so here it is.


June 21 2018

Hywel Dda University Health Board

Opinion Research Services

Freepost (SS1018)

PO Box 530, Swansea SA1 1ZL

Llansawel Community Council’s view on ‘Our Big NHS Change’

Dear Sir/ Madam

Llansawel Community Council, while appreciating the financial constraints affecting Hywel Dda University Health Board, is strongly opposed to the closure of Accident & Emergency and Acute Admissions at West Wales General Hospital, Glangwili, and their relocation to a future new hospital between St Clears and Narberth, for these reasons:

  • The new hospital would be 30 to 40 miles from Llansawel, depending on the precise site chosen.
  • Up to half the journey would be on narrow minor roads.
  • The A40 section of the journey is subject to traffic jams and delays notably at holiday times. This could result in ambulances spending more operational time travelling and therefore reduce the number of incidents each ambulance could attend each day.
  • The proposed location of the new hospital would not be easily accessible to those patients or visitors who lack their own transport.
  • The argument that the Wales Air Ambulance could attend serious incidents in the Llansawel area might be valid for the 12 hours a day during which the air ambulance operates, but the service is funded voluntarily , not by the Welsh Government, and so should be viewed as supplementary, not a critical element of the core service.

We understand the staffing difficulties experienced by the health board, and appreciate that a new hospital might attract staff, but in our view that magnet effect would wear off after two or three years, and we do not think that building a new hospital is the best way to bring skilled medical personnel to West Wales. Instead, we would seek to persuade the Welsh and UK governments to improve the infrastructure of West Wales, for example by electrifying the mainline railway to Swansea and beyond, and by proceeding with the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon. These investments would strengthen the economy of West Wales and make the region more attractive to early and mid-career professionals.

Yours faithfully


The point is that Hywel Dda cannot, on its own, solve the relative inaccessibility of West Wales, the age profile tipping towards the elderly retired, or the apparent inability of the Welsh Government to revive the regional economy. Given these constraints, the mammoth consultation exercise may not achieve much other than a report emphasising that  people don’t want to travel dozens of miles, in a region with very little in the way of frequent public transport, for urgent medical treatment. And we knew that already.

In 2017-18 Hywel Dda overspent its budget by £69.430 million, or 9% above the £766.027 million allocated. The cumulative overspend over the past three years, rising every year, is £150.242 million. Typically it’s more expensive to employ agency and locum staff than permanent employees. The health board states, in appendix 2 to the 2017-18 report and accounts, that “Recruitment of permanent and temporary clinical staffing (allied health professionals, medical and nursing) continues to present a significant operational risk to the UHB [University Health Board] resulting in continued fragility of day to day service provision, difficulties in managing demand and patient flows, making it challenging to implement any service reconfiguration/improvements, undertake waiting list initiatives, and delivery of the NHS Outcomes Framework”.

The difficulties include “lack of substantive middle grade doctors in A&E”, “lack of Registered Nurses leading to unsafe staffing levels in Emergency Departments”, “lack of capacity in district nursing to effectively treat and manage ambulant patients with leg ulcers”, “shortage in clinical workforce to deliver against the current model of General Practice”, “lack of theatre resource, cardiologist, physiologist, nursing and radiologist leading to long waiting times for cardiac pacing and the disruption to scheduled services”, “fragile dermatology services due to insufficient staffing levels”, and “staffing levels below recommended levels for stroke care giving rise to avoidable harm to patients”.

Why don’t more medical professionals want to settle in West Wales? We can guess at a perceived lack of career progression opportunities, few well-paying jobs for non-medic partners or family members, remoteness from London, and property values growing more slowly than in more affluent parts of Britain, making it difficult for early and mid-career professionals to relocate to South East England, say, should that be beneficial career-wise.

The Welsh Government is making a start on expanding medical education in Wales. Health Secretary Vaughan Gething said on July 6th that 40 new funded medical places will be available from September, 20 in Cardiff and 20 in Swansea. In addition, Cardiff is co-operating with Bangor University to arrange for students to be able to do their whole medical degree in North Wales from 2019, and Swansea is collaborating with Aberystwyth to improve medical education in West Wales. These steps should benefit Hywel Dda in due course — but not yet.

Meanwhile, we have the results of the consultation exercise, carried out by Opinion Research Services (ORS), a ‘spin off’ from Swansea University. ORS says that there is least support for ‘Proposal C’, with main hospitals in Aberystwyth, Llanelli and a new site between St Clears and Narberth, plus planned (not acute or emergency) care in Carmarthen, and a community hospital in Haverfordwest. This option is now unlikely to progress.

The choice, it appears, will be between main hospitals in Aberystwyth and St Clears-Narberth, and three community hospitals in Carmarthen, Llanelli and Haverfordwest (Proposal A) and main hospitals in Aberystwyth, St Clears-Narberth, and Llanelli, plus community hospitals in Carmarthen and Haverfordwest (Proposal B). In addition, there is strong feeling in Pembrokeshire for a new plan to expand medical services in the county (which would be challenging, to use a buzz word, without further cuts in Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion).

The alternatives sit alongside a planned increase in medical services available in local centres such as Llandovery and Cross Hands.

That is, if staff are available, but Hywel Dda cannot solve this tough and worsening personnel problem on its own.





Reincarnation Shock at Llanelli’s £250m Wellness Village

Carmarthenshire County Council’s private-sector partner in the £250 million* Wellness and Life Science Village development project at Delta Lakes, Llanelli, a cornerstone of the Swansea Bay City Deal, is a new incarnation of the dissolved Kent Neurosciences Ltd, the company with which the county council signed an exclusivity agreement in 2016.

The new partner, alongside Swansea University, is Sterling Health Security Holdings Ltd, of Longcroft, 8 Windmill Park, Wrotham, Sevenoaks, in Kent, a company started in October 2015, dormant in its first year, and with a negative value of £137,722 and zero cash in the bank and zero employees at the end of its second year, at October 31st 2017.

The company’s accounts explain that “to continue trading [the company] is dependent on a loan from the directors, who have confirmed their intention to provide financial support to the company for the foreseeable future”.

So the county council’s private-sector partner for a £250 million contract – incidentally the only company to tender for the opportunity – had no money and no employees, but six-figure debts and an ongoing reliance on loans from its directors. It was a small enterprise, but the contract award notice released by the Welsh Government stated somewhat surprisingly that the company is not an SME (a small or medium-sized enterprise).

The directors are Franz Hermann Dickmann (77), Dr Phyllis Holt-Dickmann (66), Rupert Knight Harrison (58), Kevin Stephen Smith (54), James Edward Dickmann (49), and former leader of Carmarthenshire County Council, Meryl Gravell (73).

Franz Dickmann, Phyllis Holt-Dickmann and James Dickmann were all directors of Kent Neurosciences Ltd too, although James Dickmann resigned four years before the company was wound up in May 2018.

Rupert Harrison is listed at Companies House as a banker and attorney, and is a current director of some 19 companies, half of which are new and as at the end of July 2018 had not yet submitted accounts. Kevin Smith is listed as a company director, and apart from Sterling Health Security Holdings is a director of Heart 2 Heart Telemedicine Ltd. Franz Dickmann and Phyllis Holt-Dickmann, the duo who personally control the shares of Sterling Health Security Holdings, as well as serving as directors, are also directors of Heart to Heart Telemedicine Ltd.

Both Franz Dickmann and James Dickmann are former directors of KIMS Hospital Ltd, a private hospital at Maidstone, Kent, which opened in 2014. The hospital has yet to attain profitability. In the year to April 2016 it lost almost £15.89 million, and the following year to April 2017the loss was £9.72 million.

The Wellness Centre is not just about money, of course, but it will need to be profitable if taxpayers are not to be saddled with liabilities, and there must be doubts over the current financial capacity of the West Wales population to buy heavily enough into the wellness vision to ensure its success. West Wales is, after all, one of the poorest parts of North West Europe.

*Swansea University put the cost at £200 million as recently as July, in a press release titled ‘Landmark agreement boost for Llanelli’s £200m Wellness Village’. The contract award notice from the Welsh Government’s Sell2Wales, also in July, said £250 million. In June 2018 Carmarthenshire County Council reckoned the figure was ‘more than £200 million’. So it appears to be, a hefty 25% more.   


Cashless Society Damages Local Trade

Llansawel Market is this Saturday, July 21st, in the village hall from 10am to noon. The third Saturday of the month is always market time in this North Carmarthenshire village, more or less in the centre of a triangle with Lampeter, Llandovery and Llandeilo at the corners.

One modern development does not help it at all, though – the cashless society.

The nearest cashpoint is a good ten miles away, at the Co-op supermarket in Llandeilo. We rely increasingly on Co-op supermarkets to provide this rural area with cash, from the cashpoints in Llandeilo, Llandovery and Lampeter, and from the tills as ‘cashback’. These small but historic towns have suffered the withdrawal of banking services. HSBC, Lloyds and NatWest closed in Llandeilo and Llandovery. In both, Barclays is the only bank left in town, four days a week in Llandeilo and three days in Llandovery. The university town of Lampeter has lost NatWest, another blow for rural areas delivered by parent company Royal Bank of Scotland, which since 2008 has been bailed out by taxpayers to the tune of some £45 billion.

Getting hold of your cash is not at all easy, especially if you do not have your own transport. Closer to home than Llandeilo, the friendly Post Office in the National Trust village of Cwmdu, six miles away and open in the mornings Tuesday to Saturday, is an extremely valuable community asset, and so is the Post Office van at Llansawel village hall for an hour (2.15-3.15) on Monday afternoons. What we don’t have is a free-to-use cashpoint available round the clock.

Llansawel Village Hall, home of the village market — which runs on cash

Stallholders at the market take cash. Customers need cash. The market sells local products – such as cheeses, fruit and vegetables, beef, eggs, baked goods, confectionery, plants, crafts – so is an outlet for nearby enterprises, delivering the short supply chains which the EU has been encouraging. Small-scale producers who sell at markets and fairs benefit the rural economy and are helping to keep villages viable. Yet their need for customers with cash to spend is largely ignored by the big banks.

We are not talking about shoppers carrying wads of £20 notes, just modest amounts of cash for buying from small traders and also for donating to charity collectors. Homeless and recently homeless sellers of the Big Issue magazine, for example, depend on passers-by stumping up £2.50 for a copy. A debit card is no use for buying the Big Issue.

The scarcity of cashpoints in the countryside is itself a big issue, needing government and banks to get together to work out how to prevent rural regions from descending into financial deserts.



Welsh Government Recruiting Consultants for Llandeilo Bypass

The Welsh Government is recruiting consultants to manage the construction of a bypass for Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire.

The estimated value of the four-and-a-half year management contract is £6 million. The bypass itself is expected to cost about £50 million.

Talk of a Llandeilo bypass began in 1939 when traffic was far lighter than today. The length of the A483 Manchester to Swansea trunk road bisects Llandeilo as Rhosmaen Street, which has illegal levels of air pollution resulting from heavy traffic including super-sized lorries.

The preferred route for the Llandeilo bypass (see below) was agreed before the new comprehensive school Ysgol Bro Dinefwr was constructed, and now there is only a narrow corridor between the school and homes in Ffairfach.

Concerned residents, who delivered a leaflet to local houses early in 2017, worried that traffic on a new bypass would bring air pollution close to the school, and that “heavy, fast-moving traffic will threaten the safety of children travelling to and from the school”.

Pupils walking between the school and town will need a safe way to cross the bypass where it meets the A476, the road on which the school entrance is located.

Given these issues, construction of the bypass is unlikely to be free of controversy, and so the project managers will need more than a shovel-sized capacity for diplomacy.

The preferred route for the Llandeilo bypass, shown above, was agreed before Ysgol Bro Dinefwr was constructed, leaving only a narrow corridor for it between the school and homes in Ffairfach. 

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