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Welsh Government investigates Cantref

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Uncharitable?: Cymdeithas Tai Cantref housing association

Uncharitable?: Cymdeithas Tai Cantref housing association

ITS WEBSITE says that Cymdeithas Tai Cantref is a housing association which provides ‘good quality affordable homes’ and housing services for almost 3,500 people across four local authority areas in West Wales: Ceredigion, North Pembrokeshire, North Carmarthenshire and the Machynlleth area in Powys.
What it does not tell visitors to the website is that it is currently under investigation by the Welsh Government and has been the subject of previous investigations into its management and an alleged culture of bullying.
With 84 staff, largely based in its Newcastle Emlyn HQ, Cantref is a major employer. And one it appears with a number of major problems.
The recent AGM of Cantref was held at Cardigan Castle, a venue itself no stranger to controversy. It was a bumper event, with tenants invited to partake of a hog roast and free wine, while residents of Cantref’s hostel were similarly entertained.
The uncharitable have suggested that perhaps the Association’s money would have been better spent on repairing its existing stock. Something which it is claimed the Association is too cash-strapped to manage.
Meanwhile, The Herald has been told that Cantref is struggling to find people to take up residence in its new Felinfach development while the student accommodation built in Aberystwyth, and which was intended to fund further projects, has proven a similarly hard sell.
The Herald has confirmed that three senior staff left Cantref’s employment, among them the Director of Housing, whose replacement Jamie Saunders took up his post earlier this month. Mr Saunders’ background in housing appears limited to the twelve years’ experience he gained working for Hugh James Solicitors, latterly as a senior associate solicitor specialising in property litigation.
The Finance Director was replaced in March. The new post holder, Rhodri Jones, was formerly with Newport City Homes. In 2013, the Welsh Government reported that ‘Newport City Homes recognises that it is not yet always providing excellent outcomes in the way services are delivered’. Comments made by former staff were less kind. One staff comment dated March 20, 2015 on the site glassdoor.com said: “Horrendous working environment, incomprehensible structures & processes, mainly incompetent managers & directors completely out of their depth with personal values to match with all too few exceptions. Stress levels that hugely impact on your quality of life, ill health, huge staff turnover, very high staff absence mainly due to stress. Incredibly poor recruitment policy”.
The Herald has confirmed that officials from the Welsh Government are now using their powers to investigate Cymdeithas Tai Cantref. The Herald has been told, but has not been able to confirm, that this is the first time the Welsh Government has used those powers.
The Herald has, however, confirmed that the investigation has arisen following ‘whistleblowing’ by either past or current Cantref employees.
The Welsh Government is following three lines of enquiry: Governance of the organisation, procurement irregularities and HR (treatment of staff ).
The Herald has been told that the Welsh Government’s officials initially made great play of the situation’s seriousness.
Our sources have confirmed that staff are unaware of any further visits by the Welsh Government to Cantref to follow up that initial intervention. Consultants from a firm called Campbell Tickell, a housing consultancy, are involved and while its representatives have spoken to senior managers, no staff have been interviewed to date, or even been asked their availability. One source has told us that Cantref’s management have told staff the investigation could take four months.
The Herald understands that a letter sent to stakeholders by Cantref has played down the importance of the Welsh Government’s intervention.
We have also been told that senior managers have told staff that if they say anything to WG or the investigators the Association will be shut down and everyone will lose their jobs. A planned (cost of living) pay rise has been cancelled. The move has been widely regarded by staff as a collective punishment for the actions of the whistle-blowers.
Our reporter contacted Cymdeithas Tai Cantref and asked them to comment on the situation.
Lynne Sacale, Cantref’s Chief Executive, told The Herald: “Cantref believes in ‘placing our customers at the heart of our work’ and 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”

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Lecture considers the future of war

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INTERNATIONALLY renowned war scholar and military conflict expert, Professor Christopher Coker delivered this year’s Kenneth N. Waltz Annual Lecture on Thursday (Nov 16).

Christopher Coker, Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science, is a prolific author on all aspects of war. He is a former NATO Fellow, a former twice serving member of the Council of the Royal United Services Institute, and a regular lecturer at Defence Colleges in the UK, US, Rome, Singapore, and Tokyo.

In his lecture entitled ‘Still ‘The Human Thing’? Thucydides, Waltz & the Future of War”, Professor Coker discussed war as a feature of what we call ‘human nature’ or ‘humanity’ in general, while focusing on urgent contemporary issues such as possible changes in the nature of war by the blurring of the distinction between humans and machines.

He also considered how, as Artificial Intelligence becomes ever more a fact of life, the traditional functions and forms of war could change, discussing such questions as: will we still need war and will war still need us?

Talking ahead of the the event, Professor Ken Booth of Aberystwyth University said: “Chris Coker is a very imaginative, interesting, and controversial thinker. Intellectually ambitious, he always addresses the biggest questions. The titles of some of his most recent books attest to this: Future War, Can War be Eliminated?, Warrior Geeks: how 21st Century Technology is Changing the Way We Fight and Think about War, The Improbable War: China, the US, and the Logic of Great Power Conflict and Men at War: what Fiction tells us about Conflict. We can be sure of a fascinating and challenging lecture about a supremely important area of human behaviour.”

The Kenneth N. Waltz Annual Lecture brings distinguished scholars to Aberystwyth to talk about issues that were central to the concerns of the late Ken Waltz, the leading theorist of international relations over many decades.
Hosted by the David Davies Memorial Institute and the Department of International Politics, this year’s lecture was held in the Main Hall in the International Politics Building on the Penglais Campus.

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Youth Service invited to international training event

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TWO Youth Workers from Ceredigion Youth Service have been selected to represent the UK on a week’s training opportunity in Horažd’ovice in the Czech Republic.

‘The danger of a Single Story’ is a training course funded by Erasmus+, that combines stories, media, global education and active citizenship to empower trainers, educators and youth workers with the tools to educate young people on issues such as cyberbullying, hate speech, and online harassment.

Elen James, Head of Youth Engagement and Continuing Education​,​ said​:​ “We are extremely proud of both Rebeca Davies and Guto Crompton, 270 people had applied, for 24 places, 2 were allocated for the UK and both places have been assigned to Ceredigion Youth Service staff.

“This is an excellent training opportunity for them, which will inform them and encourage them to reflect on the evolution of media and the consequences that it has on the formation of stereotypes and prejudices. We wish them all the best in Prague!​”​

Rebeca Davies and Guto Crompton will join 22 other Youth Workers from Cyprus, Czech Republic, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain and Turkey. The week will be hosted at the PROUD Environmental Centre approximately 120km from Prague, from ​Sunday (Nov 19) for a week.

Rebeca Davies, School Based Youth Worker said​:​ “I’m really looking forward to visiting Prague, and meeting other Youth Workers from across the World. It will be a fantastic opportunity to learn new tools and techniques to encourage and empower young people back here in Ceredigion.”

Guto Crompton, School Based Youth Worker ​added​:​ “I’m looking forward to learning more about different Youth Work methods and approaches. I’m also eager to develop a greater awareness around education, active citizenship and democracy.”

Cabinet member for Learning Services, Children and Young People’s Partnership, Councillor Catrin Miles, ​commented: “As a Council, we are very proud of the hard work of our Youth Service to the young people of the county. This will be a very important and worthwhile opportunity for Rebeca and Guto to represent Ceredigion and Wales and we wish them all the best at the event.”

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Pot Noodles bought with theft proceeds

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ON WEDNESDAY (Nov 15), Aberystwyth Magistrates’ Court heard that a 23-year-old man stole an HDMI cable from a store and sold it for a tenner to buy ten Pot Noodles.

Joel Alexander Owens, of Portland Street in Aberystwyth, pleaded guilty to stealing alcohol to the value of £24.96 belonging to his hometown’s B&M Bargains on June 29. He also admitted stealing an HDMI cable to the value of £14 belonging to Tesco in Aberystwyth on September 24.

Prosecuting, Helen Tench said a staff member at B&M was notified by a member of the public about a male who left the store without paying for items.

CCTV footage was checked, which showed Owens select a number of alcoholic items and leaving the store without making any payments.

Police officers later viewed the footage and identified the defendant.

On October 14, a member of staff at Tesco was informed of the incident at B&M. The Tesco CCTV footage was viewed as a result and the defendant was seen removing an HDMI cable from its box on September 24 and leaving without paying.

Ms Tench said Owens was interviewed on October 19, where he admitted committing the offences in his personal statement.

The defendant also admitted he sold the HDMI cable for £10 in order to buy ten Pot Noodles.

Defending, Katy Hanson said Owens pleaded guilty at the first opportunity and admitted to stealing beer and cider from B&M.

Probation officer Julian Davies stated that the defendant was currently serving a 12-month community order for two previous offences of theft and a breach of a conditional discharge.

Aberystwyth magistrates revoked Owens community order and imposed a 12-month community order with 20 rehabilitation activity requirement days and a four-week curfew.

Owens was told to pay prosecution costs of £85, compensation of £14 to Tesco and compensation of £24.96 to B&M Bargains.

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