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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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Community

Start your career with the RNLI

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THE RNLI is in search of new recruits to spend a season working on some of west Wales’ most popular beaches, as applications open for 2020 beach lifeguards. RNLI lifeguards operate on 40 beaches in Wales in the counties of Bridgend, Swansea, Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire and Denbighshire.

In west Wales, the RNLI is particularly keen to recruit lifeguards to work the beaches of Aberystwyth north/south and Borth.

In addition to this lifeguards will be required to provide a seasonal service at Pembrey, Pendine Sands, Amroth, Saundersfoot, Tenby North/Castle/South,  Freshwater West, Broad Haven, Nolton Haven, Newgale South/Central/North, Whitesands, Newport Sands, Poppit Sands, Aberporth, Tresaith, Llangrannog, New Quay Harbour and Clarach.
Successful applications will be to be available to attend training between 29 June – 10 July 2020.

At the forefront of the RNLI’s lifesaving work, the charity’s lifeguards responded to almost 20,000 incidents and helped more than 32,000 people in 2018. Successful applicants receive world-class training in search and rescue, lifesaving and casualty care techniques, good rates of pay and the chance to develop valuable skills for a future career.

In order to apply, there is a requirement to hold a National Vocational Beach Lifeguard Qualification (NVBLQ) or equivalent. A health assessment (including an eyesight test) to ensure you are physically up to the job will be required. All lifeguards must be able to complete:

A 400m pool swim in under 7½ minutes, the first 200m of which must be completed in under 3½ minutes.
A 25m pool swim underwater and a 25m surface swim consecutively in under 50 seconds.
A 200m beach run in under 40 seconds.

Lee Fisher, Lifeguard Services Manager says: ‘Working as a lifeguard is a unique and rewarding experience – you get to call the beach your office for a start! But far more importantly than that, you are there to make sure the public stay safe while enjoying their visit, and ultimately to help save lives at sea.

‘This is a demanding job requiring commitment, skill and a clear head, but it’s also a job that is truly life changing. We’re looking for people with courage, determination and the ability to put their training into action and make the right decision if someone’s life is in danger. It is an incredibly rewarding role.’

And it’s not just on the beach where lifeguarding skills can be put into practice. The training provided by the charity can be an ideal first step towards many career paths, including continuing to work for the RNLI or for a career in the emergency services.

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Community

Historic estates conference

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On Saturday 22 February the Carmarthenshire Antiquarian Society, the county’s
history society, will be holding a conference on the historic landed estates of south-
west Wales entitled “The Landed Estate in South-West Wales – A Force for Good?”.

It will be an opportunity to learn about the latest research into this important aspect of
the area’s history from specialist speakers.

Non-members of the Society will be very welcome at the event which is being held at
the Halliwell Centre at the Trinity St David’s University campus in Carmarthen.

Further details and a booking form for sending in by 10 February are available on the
Society’s website www.carmants.org.uk.

The Carmarthenshire Antiquarian Society has a wide-ranging programme of talks and
visits to historic sites throughout the year.

Members receive full details together with The Carmarthenshire Antiquary,
the Society’s annual publication which is a long- respected source of information
about Carmarthenshire’s history and archaeology.

More information about the Society and how to become a member is given on the
website.

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News

Four out of five tenants satisfied with council’s housing service

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FOUR out of five tenants (82%) are satisfied with the overall service provided by the council’s housing department, with 44% very satisfied, according to a recent survey.

The STAR tenant satisfaction survey also showed that 79% of tenants were satisfied with the quality of their home, including 38% that were very satisfied.

Rent value for money had a satisfaction score of 77%; and three quarters of respondents (75%) were satisfied with the repairs and maintenance service overall.

The survey, using HouseMark’s STAR model which is the standardised methodology for tenant and resident surveys, was carried out during June and July. Questionnaires were sent to 5000 tenants selected at random by mail, email, online and text.

A total of 2087 tenants completed the survey giving a response rate of 29%.

Further results show:

85% of tenants were satisfied with their neighbourhood as a place to live
66% (two-thirds) were satisfied with the grounds maintenance service
58% (three out of five) of respondents were satisfied with the way in which the council deals with anti-social behaviour
64% felt the council listened and took their views into account
79% satisfied with the last completed repair

The overall satisfaction score of 82% also compares favourably with a 78% average score for other Welsh councils.

However, the results of the survey did show that satisfaction in services overall was lower among 35 to 54-year-olds and there were clusters of below average satisfaction in urban wards in Llanelli and Carmarthen.

Executive Board Member for Housing Cllr Linda Evans said: “I would like to thank everyone that responded to the survey. It is pleasing to see that generally satisfaction levels are high, but that does not mean there is room for complacency and improvements can always be made.

“We are now working with colleagues from other departments like repairs and grounds maintenance to look at ways of improving the services tenants receive.

“It is also very important to us when planning for the future, and we will continue to need your help to work with us in developing services in the way you want.”

The next step is to hold a series of workshops throughout the county where tenants will be able to go along and speak to one of the partnership and engagement team. Keep an eye out on the council’s website and Facebook and Twitter accounts for further information on when and where the workshops will be held. Remember you can also speak to an officer during a home visit or on the phone as well if you are unable to attend any of the events.

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