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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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‘Cam Nesa’ project provides wellbeing packs to 16 – 24 year olds

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The Cam Nesa project is part of European Structural Funds (ESF) Operational Programme and work’s with young people aged between 16 and 24 by providing them with options to access a range of tailored personal support and work-related opportunities to meet their needs and aspirations.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ceredigion’s County Council Cam Nesa team have been busy putting together wellbeing packs for its participants. The Well-being packs have been put together to support young people who may be experiencing loneliness, isolation or other vulnerabilities during this difficult time.

The wellbeing packs have been distributed to Ceredigion’s young people in recent weeks, over 3 months since the pandemic began and our usual way of life dramatically changed. Throughout the pandemic participants has also receive weekly calls as part of Porth Cymorth Cynnar’s keeping in touch service and it is hoped that the well-being packs support the work already done by this service by bringing some comfort and reassurance to Ceredigion’s young people.

Wellbeing packs included newsletters, leaflets, important contact details, information letters, puzzles, newspaper, hand cream, stress ball, calming art and colouring pencils, Shampoo/Shower gel, toothbrush, toothpaste, sanitary products, confectionery and a motivational quote card all in a reusable cotton bag.

One Cam Nesa participant you who received a wellbeing pack said, “Thank you so much for the wellbeing pack. Its very kind thank you very much!”

Another participant said “Thank you for the welfare pack, I am very impressed with its contents, especially the chocolates”

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Three launches in three days for New Quay RNLI

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NEW QUAY lifeboat station has had a busy start to August with the D-class inshore lifeboat launching on each of the first three days of the month. The first shout saw the station’s youngest crew member, Jess Bainbridge, 17, attend her first callout.  

On Saturday 1 August, the inshore lifeboat was launched following reports of two children cut off by the tide in New Quay. The casualties were located wading through the water and the lifeboat stood by until they safely reached the beach. Safety advice was also given to another person attempting to follow the same route.

While still on the water, the lifeboat was then requested to assist a 22ft leisure craft which had broken down. The lifeboat located the vessel to the north-east of New Quay pier and set up a tow before returning the craft to its mooring in New Quay harbour.

Huw Williams, New Quay RNLI helm said, “It’s been a difficult time, for our newer crew members especially, as we haven’t been able to train for the last few months due to Covid-19 restrictions. That didn’t seem to bother Jess; she was very calm and performed well under pressure.”

Jess, who works at the Cardigan Bay Watersports Centre in New Quay, added, “It was great to finally get that first shout under my belt and I was glad to be able to help.”

On Sunday 2 August the inshore lifeboat was launched at 12.15pm to assist New Quay Coastguard Rescue Team with an inquired person at Llanina, near New Quay. However, as the lifeboat arrived on scene, ambulance service paramedics had arrived so the lifeboat was stood down and returned to station.

On Monday 3 August the inshore lifeboat was again launched to assist New Quay Coastguard Rescue Team with an inquired person on Traeth Gwyn, near New Quay. The casualty was transferred from the beach to New Quay harbour in the lifeboat and the crew provided casualty care until the ambulance arrived.

Roger Couch, New Quay RNLI Operations Manager said, “With the school holidays in full swing remember to check tide times and weather reports before heading to the coast or out to sea. If you do find yourself in trouble, or if you see anyone in difficulty, call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.”

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Eat Out to Help Out Launches today – with Government paying half on restaurant bills

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FROM today, Monday, August 3, customers will get up to 50% off on bills when visiting participating restaurants, pubs and cafes;

Half price discount will run through August and applies to all food and non-alcoholic drinks consumed on the premises – with Pizza Express, Costa Coffee and Nando’s among thousands signed up.

The scheme, part of the Chancellor’s Plan for Jobs, aims to protect jobs in the hospitality sector – which has been hit hard by coronavirus.

Diners across Wales will see their restaurant bills slashed by as much as 50% from today as the government’s landmark Eat Out to Help Out scheme officially opens for business.

Anyone visiting a participating restaurant, café or pub on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays throughout August will receive the half price discount – keeping more money in hardworking families’ pockets and giving a vital boost to the UK’s hospitality sector.

The scheme – part of the government’s Plan for Jobs that will spur the country’s economic recovery from coronavirus – applies to all food and non-alcoholic drinks, with a maximum discount per person of £10. It could save a family of four up to £40 per meal.

2,084 outlets have so far signed up for the scheme in Wales.

You can check to find outlets in individual towns and cities by downloading the list here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/eat-out-to-help-out-scheme-registration-data-for-software-develop

Alternatively, you can use the online restaurant finder to search for participating outlets using a postcode:

https://www.tax.service.gov.uk/eat-out-to-help-out/find-a-restaurant

Secretary of State for Wales Simon Hart said: “Wales has some of the best pubs, cafes and restaurants and our hospitality sector plays a vital role in our economy, employing thousands of people. Recognising the incredible challenges faced by the sector, we are doing everything we can to encourage customers through the door.

“By offering 50% off bills in restaurants, cafes and bars, the Eat Out to Help Out scheme will boost custom, protect jobs and help to kickstart the Welsh economy.

“I hope as many people as possible make the most of this fantastic scheme which is another step in securing the future of Wales’ world-class tourism and hospitality industry.”

More than 72,000 establishments are participating, including independent eateries and family favourites such as Pizza Express, Costa Coffee and Nando’s.

There have already been over 3.3 million hits on the Eat Out to Help Out restaurant finder since it launched last week, which shows what businesses are participating in local areas, and many restaurants have since seen a boost in bookings. Apps like Opentable, Fork and Bookatable are all planning pages to support the scheme.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak said: “Our Eat Out to Help Out scheme’s number one aim is to help protect the jobs of 1.8 million chefs, waiters and restaurateurs by boosting demand and getting customers through the door.

“More than 72,000 establishments will be serving discounted meals across the country, with the government paying half the bill. The industry is a vital ingredient to our economy and it’s been hit hard by coronavirus, so enjoy summer safely by showing your favourite places your support – we’ll pay half.”

The scheme will help protect the jobs of the hospitality industry’s 1.8 million employees by encouraging people to safely return to their local restaurants, cafes and pubs where social-distancing rules allow.

Around 80% of hospitality firms stopped trading in April, with 1.4 million workers furloughed, the highest of any sector.

Many participating restaurants offer healthy and low-calorie options, and the scheme should be enjoyed as part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle. No vouchers are needed, with the participating establishment deducting 50% from the bill.

People may be worried about returning to eat out. To address these concerns, businesses have prepared to become Covid-secure through, for example, protective screens, contactless payments, social distancing, one way walking systems, online bookings and reduced capacity.

The Eat Out to Help Out scheme is one part of the Chancellor’s £30 billion Plan for Jobs, announced last month. Other measures announced to protect, support and create jobs include cutting VAT for tourism and hospitality by 15%, a £2 billion Kickstart Scheme and an £8.8 billion investment in new infrastructure, decarbonisation and maintenance projects.

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