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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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Cash and drugs seized after ‘Interceptors inspired’ police pursuit

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SEVERAL thousands of pounds in cash and drugs suspected to be cocaine have been seized following a pursuit in Carmarthen.

Dyfed-Powys Police officers arrested a 33-year-old following the pursuit, during which the driver purposely collided with two police cars as he attempted to evade arrest.

Nigel Dale Lewis pleaded guilty to six offences when he appeared at Llanelli Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday, October 21, and now awaits sentencing.

Roads policing units were dispatched at around 10.40pm on Monday, October 19 after the force control centre received a report that a driver had failed to stop for officers at Pencader.

The car was sighted on the A485 at Dolgwili, before turning onto the A40 towards Carmarthen.

Inspector Andy Williams said: “Officers intercepted the car and used a manoeuvre to bring it to a safe stop at the side of the carriageway.

“However the driver took it upon himself to avoid being stopped and attempted to reverse away, but officers blocked his path.

“He then tried to drive forward down the nearside barrier, and rammed into the front wheel of one of our cars. Officers were forced to disable his vehicle to ensure he didn’t get away.

“Two of our vehicles were damaged in the incident, but thankfully nobody involved suffered any injuries.”

A large quantity of cash was found on the front seat of the car, and a drug swipe carried out at the roadside provided a positive result.

During a search, Lewis, from Caerphilly, was also found to be in possession of a substance believed to be cocaine.

On arrest, he claimed he believed officers “wanted a chase” as he had “seen one on Interceptors”.

Insp Williams said: “Following excellent teamwork throughout the day by Carmarthenshire Roads Policing Unit officers, sufficient evidence was gathered to charge the individual with six offences.

“This is an excellent example of teamwork, with the focus of keeping our roads safe.”

Lewis was charged with dangerous driving, possession of a class A drug, failing to stop for police, criminal damage to police vehicles, driving otherwise in accordance with a licence, and driving with no insurance, and appeared at Llanelli Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday, October 21.
He has admitted the charges, and is due to be sentenced at Swansea Crown Court on Friday, November 6.

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Police officer punched and spat at minutes after aggressive man held knife to his own throat

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A POLICE officer was punched in the face and spat at as he responded to a report of a violent man with a knife.

The Dyfed-Powys Police PC was left with swelling and bruising following the incident in Carmarthen on Saturday, October 17.

He also attended A&E for his eye to be cleaned after being spat at by Michael Ivan Priestly, who has since been charged and sentenced for assaulting an officer.

The force received a report of a disturbance at a house in Glanffynnon at around 9.40am, where it was said the 43-year-old was in possession of a knife.

Sergeant Darren Morgan said: “We positioned ourselves outside the property, and the defendant came out in a raging state, shouting, swearing and throwing his arms about.

“His behaviour was so alarming that we feared for our safety until he went back inside.”

Further units attended to provide support, but once inside the house, the defendant’s behaviour became more concerning.

“Through the back window we could clearly see him in possession of a knife, which he pointed at us several times in a threatening manner,” Sgt Morgan said.

“He then put the knife to his throat. We weren’t sure if he was threatening to harm himself or us.

“We attempted to engage with him, but he came outside again, shouting aggressively and swearing.”

Priestly removed a six inch knife from the waistband of his trousers, and dropped in on the ground when instructed.

Efforts were made to calm him down, but he became more uncooperative until the point he lashed out and punched a PC, before spitting at him.

Priestly was arrested and taken to custody, where he continued his tirade against officers.

He was charged with assaulting an emergency worker, and appeared at Llanelli Magistrates’ Court on Monday, October 19.

He was sentenced to a community order, a rehabilitation activity requirement, 100 hours of unpaid work, and must pay a total of £280 in compensation and costs.

Sgt Morgan said: “I would like to commend all officers involved in the incident for their actions in preventing Priestly from potentially harming himself or others.”

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Killer Andrew Jones must spend at least 30 years in jail

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A KILLER from Carmarthen will spend at least 30 years in jail.

Andrew Jones, 53, from Bronwydd Road, denied murdering his long-time friend Michael O’Leary but was convicted by a jury.

Mrs Justice Jefford set a minimum term of 30 years which he must serve before he can be considered for parole. She described the killing as ” a planned ambush”.

She told the killer: “Michael O’Leary did something wrong but he did not deserve to pay for that with his life. All accounts of him is of a man who lit up the room and played a central role in the lives of his family.

“Your family stands by you. You are more than fortunate in that. The impact of your actions in their lives has also been devastating. They feel ostracised from the community from where they live.

“Your wife still talks about you as the love of her life and your children talk about you in glowing terms.”

The judge made an order for the forfeiture and destruction of a rifle but not of the other guns in Jones’ possession.

She added: “This was a remarkable investigation by Dyfed-Powys Police.

“The officers and operatives involved are too numerous to mention but they are all to be commended for their efforts.”

Mr Jones’ barrister Karim Khalil QC is now addressing the court.

He said: “The defendant himself is not a highly educated man. He made the best of the talents he had.

“He worked all hours, not in any sense workshy. He built a family life which is now destroyed.

“He is remorseful for what happened. He is not cold-blooded.

“He acknowledges the pain he has caused.”

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