THE END OF THE MR & MRS WILLIAMS SHOW

June 27, 2018

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BROADCASTING WATCHDOG Ofcom has appointed a new Director of its Wales office.

Eleanor Marks, a senior career servant in the Welsh government, takes up the post in September.

A Welsh-speaker, Marks was previously the government’s Director of Communities and Tackling Poverty and also worked for HM Revenue & Customs.

The appointment means Ofcom Wales will not become a family affair.

When Rhodri Williams stepped down in March as Director, there was speculation he would be replaced by his wife, Elinor.

As Regulatory Affairs Manager, she was the effective number 2 — and had stepped into Rhodri Williams shoes when he was seconded to Ofcom London in 2012.

The couple were married in 2017 but for an unknown number of years before that had been conducting a secret affair.

Rhodri Williams

MR WILLIAMS …
MYSTERY SURROUNDS the sudden departure of Rhodri Williams as Ofcom’s £120,000-a-year Wales Director. The 62-year-old had been in the post for 14 years. Controversy has dogged his career in the media. He was gaoled in the 1970s for his part in the campaign for a Welsh language television channel. He was one of the founders of the independent production company Tinopolis but was dramatically dismissed in 2001. It was during this period that he earned his nickname “Billions”. A full account of his early career can be found in the articles A Man Of Conviction? and A Licence To Censor. In the latter piece Rebecca editor Paddy French makes a declaration of interest.
Photo: Ofcom

The appointment of a career civil servant marks an attempt by Ofcom to bring to a close a turbulent period in its Welsh operations.

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IT BEGAN in March 2017 when it was revealed that a valuable contract had been awarded to the lobbying firm Deryn without going out to contract.

Initially, Ofcom defended the contract.

But when Assembly AM Neil McEvoy intervened and demanded a formal investigation, Ofcom backtracked.

In October 2017 the watchdog admitted that its tendering procedures had been broken.

It added that several unnamed staff members would be given “further training”.

Ofcom would not say if Mr and Mrs Williams were the staff members involved.

Nor would Ofcom confirm or deny that Rhodri Williams’ decision to leave the organisation had anything to do with the scandal.

Then, in March this year, Rebecca published The Mistress Of The Man From Ofcom revealing for the first time that Rhodri Williams and his wife had been involved in a long-standing relationship.

The affair raised the issue of patronage at Ofcom Wales.

It is not known when their liaison actually began but Rebecca discovered they first met back in the 1990s.

Her career path has partly followed his.

She joined the Welsh Language Board in 2003 when he was chairman.

She joined Ofcom in 2007 as Communications Manager when he was Director.

Ofcom declined to say if Rhodri Williams had been involved in her initial appointment or her later promotion to Regulatory Affairs Manager in 2011.

On May 9 Rebecca published another article — Update: The Mistress Of The Man From Ofcom — on the search for a new Director.

ElinorWilliams

… MRS WILLIAMS
OFCOM’S DECISION to appoint a civil servant marks the end of the Mr and Mrs Williams show. In normal circumstances, Elinor Williams would have been a favoured candidate: a reorganisation in 2011 saw her become the No 2 at Ofcom Wales and the following year she stepped in as Director while Rhodri Williams worked in London. The departure of her husband and the scandal surrounding the Deryn contract appear to have persuaded Ofcom to choose an outside candidate.
Photo: Ofcom

We asked why Ofcom’s Welsh page still showed Rhodri Williams as Director when the watchdog had said he would leave at the end of March.

Ofcom then amended the page.

Northern Ireland Director Jonathan Rose was now shown to be also acting as temporary head of the Welsh operation.

But the entry for Elinor Williams had been changed: her photo had disappeared and her title had been altered.

Instead of Regulatory Affairs Manager, she was now described as Principal, Regulatory Affairs.

Ofcom declined to explain why her title had changed — or if it involved a pay rise.

The watchdog also altered the entry for a new member of staff, Lloyd Watkins.

Rebecca had asked if  Rhodri Williams had been involved in his  appointment to the apparently new position of Regulatory Affairs Advisor in January.

Ofcom declined to answer.

Watkins’ web page entry originally made it clear he had  worked for various Labour organisations and Assembly Members.

The new entry saw all his Labour Party connections removed.

♦♦♦

IT IS NOT known if Elinor Williams applied for the job of Director.

The decision to appoint someone else has headed off another potential embarrassment for Ofcom.

The Welsh Assembly AM Neil McEvoy has been keeping a close eye on the appointment process.

He told Rebecca:

“I’m pleased that Ofcom Wales is now moving forward after a very embarrassing situation.”

“Ofcom is a competition regulator, so to be exposed awarding contracts without any competition was bringing the organisation into disrepute.”

“It looked worse still when the contract was awarded to a controversial lobbying firm who had two of its directors sitting on Ofcom’s Advisory Board for Wales.”

“Unfortunately, there’s a real jobs for the boys and girls culture in Cardiff Bay that means too often the best people don’t get the best jobs.”

“We need competition regulators like Ofcom to work to end that practice, not take part in it.”

“I hope with a new Director in place they can have a fresh start and fight for equal opportunity in Wales, where every person and company has a fair go.”

“I’ll be watching very closely.”

♦♦♦ 

Published: 27 June 2018

© Rebecca

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COMING
THE DEATH OF CARL SARGEANT
LAST NOVEMBER Labour Cabinet minister Carl Sargeant hanged himself. His suicide followed allegations that he had sexually harassed women. Rebecca investigates these allegations and charts the attempts by Carwyn Jones and the Welsh Labour establishment to cover up their role in the affair.

♦♦♦

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UPDATE: THE MISTRESS OF THE MAN FROM OFCOM

May 9, 2018

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RHODRI WILLIAMS left his post as Director of the Wales Office of the broadcasting regulator Ofcom on March 31.

No reason has been given for his decision to give up the job — which pays more than £120,000 a year — at the age of 62.

Ofcom remains tight-lipped about the issue.

The watchdog would not say if the move was connected to the scandal surrounding a controversial contract.

The contract was awarded to the political lobbying firm Deryn — which includes leading figures from both Labour and Plaid Cymru — without going out to tender.

Initially, Ofcom defended it.

But it later admitted the Cardiff Office had broken its own procurement rules  — and announced that several “colleagues” would be given “further training”.

The regulator declined to say if Rhodri Williams was one of these.

Ofcom also declined to say if Elinor Wiliiams, the number 2 at the Cardiff Bay office, was another.

Ofcom also declines to comment on speculation that Elinor Williiams — the wife of Rhodri Williams — will replace him as Director.

This article updates the article published on March 6 — The Mistress Of The Man From Ofcom.

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RHODRI WILLIAMS quietly cleared his office at Ofcom Wales at the end of March.

There was no press release announcing his departure — and the regulator was silent about who would hold the post while a successor was sought.

The obvious candidate is the Wales Office No 2, Elinor Williams, the Regulatory Affairs Manager.

She married Rhodri Williams last year — before that she’d been his mistress for many years.

(In 2012, when Rhodri Williams moved to London to become temporary Director of Government and Regulatory Affairs, Elinor Williams stepped in as acting Director Wales.

Rhodri Williams

RHODRI WILLIAMS
RHODRI WILLIAMS leaves Ofcom in unexplained circumstances. The watchdog would not give any reason for his departure and simply said: “ … we wish him all the best for the future.” Williams has at least four pensions to fall back on but with extensive links to the Labour Party it’s unlikely his career in the public sector is over. He has a chequered past: gaoled in the 1970s for his part in the campaign to create a Welsh TV channel, he later tried to become a media tycoon in the 1990s. It was in this period he acquired the nickname “billions”. He was forced to leave the independent production company Tinopolis in 2001 after he was accused of diverting a valuable contract to a rival business. His career is explored in the article A Man Of Conviction? and Rebecca editor Paddy French makes a declaration of interest in A Licence To Censor.
Photo: Ofcom

On that occasion, here was no formal appointment process.

The post was “back-filled”, as Ofcom put it, with Elinor Williams taking control of the Cardiff office.) 

On April 3 the Ofcom Wales website was still showing Rhodri Williams as Director and Elinor Williams as his No 2.

Rebecca asked Ofcom what was happening.

The next day the watchdog told us the page had been amended.

This now stated that Ofcom’s Northern Ireland Director Jonathan Rose was the acting Wales Director.

But the entry for Elinor Williams had been altered.

Her picture had vanished — and her job title had changed.

Previously, she was Regulatory Affairs Manager.

This is in line with the practice in both the Scotland and Northern Ireland offices.

On April 4 the website listed her title as Principal, Regulatory Affairs.

When we queried this, Ofcom would only say that Elinor Williams had been appointed to “Principal” level back in 2013.

A spokesman added:

“Rhodri Williams was not a member of the promotion panel nor did he provide a reference.”

We asked Ofcom if the change in her title was accompanied by an increase in salary.

The regulator told us:

“We don’t disclose such personal information.”

♦♦♦

OFCOM HAS declined to answer further questions about the relationship between Rhodri Williams and Elinor Williams — and about the controversial Deryn contract. 

In March Rebecca submitted a Freedom of Information request on these issues.

We asked if Rhodri Williams was involved when Elinor Williams first joined Ofcom as Communications Manager in November 2007.

Ofcom said:

“We apply retention and deletion procedures to the information Ofcom holds in order to comply with relevant data protection laws and therefore, we no longer hold any information related to this appointment.”

Ofcom also declined to give details of Rhodri Williams’ severance package:

ElinorWilliams

HEIR APPARENT?
ELINOR WILLIAMS, the current No 2 at Ofcom Wales, is the best placed candidate to succeed her husband Rhodri Williams. After joining the watchdog as communications manager in 2007, she was the main beneficiary of a major reorganisation in 2011. Hywel Wiliam, the head of broadcasting and telecommunications, left the regulator after his post was axed. Elinor Williams was promoted to the new post of Regulatory Affairs Manager. In 2012 she replaced Rhodri Williams as acting Director when he was seconded to Ofcom HQ in London. In 2013 her post was regraded to principal level — attracting a salary in the range £60-£120,000.
Photo: Ofcom

“We are unable to provide any information concerning the arrangements under which Rhodri Williams left Ofcom as its disclosure would contravene data protection principles …”

Ofcom also declined to answer questions about the controversial Deryn contract.

This was awarded in February 2016 to provide the Cardiff office with “monitoring of proceedings, debates and Government announcements in Wales and UK-wide.”

It did not go out to competitive tender.

Two board members of Deryn — former Plaid Cymru Director of Strategy Nerys Evans and former Labour Party spin doctor Huw Roberts — were also serving on Ofcom’s advisory committee for Wales.

The contract did not become public until February 2017 when Western Mail journalist Martin Shipton and Plaid Cymru politician Neil McEvoy started to ask questions.

Initially, Ofcom defended the contract because Deryn were “able to provide a bespoke service tailored to suit the specific needs of Ofcom in Wales …”

But Ofcom axed the contract and carried out an internal review.

In October 2017 the review found that “the way the contract was awarded was not consistent with Ofcom’s required processes and a competitive procurement should have been undertaken.”

It added that several members of staff — unnamed — were to receive “further training”.

Rebecca asked if Ofcom HQ in London was consulted about the contract.

Ofcom didn’t answer the question.

The watchdog also declined to reveal the value of the contract.

“Releasing the fees paid for this work would, or would be likely to, prejudice Deryn’s commercial interests and would, or would be likely prejudice, the commercial interests of Ofcom.”

“It would prejudice Ofcom’s bargaining position in any future contract negotiations for similar monitoring services.”

Ofcom did add:

“We would like to highlight that the value of the contract is not significant.“

Rebecca has appealed the decision.

We noted that the Deryn contract was:

” — a one-off negotiation which took place without any competitive tender

— as such, any prices cannot impact — practically or theoretically — either Deryn’s or Ofcom’s commercial interests

— all other later contracts would be subject to competitive tender and the price paid for the Deryn contract would be seen to be clearly irrelevant to all bidders.

The reason for Ofcom’s decision [not to release the value of the contract] …  is to spare both Deryn and itself the embarrassment of having been caught out in a clandestine ‘sweetheart deal’.”   

The fact that two Deryn board members — Huw Roberts and Nerys Evans — were, at the same time, … members of the Advisory Committee for Wales only deepens suspicion.”

Ofcom did reveal that Huw Roberts and Nerys Evans were paid £3,000 a year while they were members of the Advisory Committee.

♦♦♦

IN JANUARY Ofcom Wales welcomed a new member of staff. 

Lloyd Watkins joined the organisation as its Regulatory Affairs Advisor in January 2018.

Ofcom included a biography on its Wales page.

“Before joining Ofcom, Lloyd worked in a variety of roles; most recently as a campaign officer for Bridgend Labour Party at the Pencoed Labour Constituency Office and for various Assembly Members …”

Rebecca asked Ofcom if this post had been advertised, the relevant salary and Lloyd Watkins’ regulatory experience.

Ofcom declined to answer these questions.

We also asked if Rhodri Williams — a Labour supporter — had been involved in the process.

We added that Lloyd Watkins’ CV:

“ … does make it clear that he has worked extensively for the Labour Party. 

“This appointment is likely to provoke comments to the effect that this is a political appointment to favour the Labour Party.”

“How does Ofcom respond to that charge?”

An Ofcom spokesman said:

“I am concerned that you will suggest, wrongly, that we have made a political appointment.”

cathy-owens-deryn

CATHY OWENS
FORMER LABOUR spin doctor Cathy Owens is the major shareholder in the political lobbying firm Deryn Consulting. She formed the company in 2011 after a period working as Rhodri Morgan’s media adviser. Civil servants complained about her abrasive style and she stepped down shortly after she accidentally left a message on Western Mail reporter Martin Shipton’s mobile phone describing journalists as “bastards”.

He added that Rebecca was:

“… making unsubstantiated claims regarding the appointment of Lloyd Watkins, who is a junior colleague on a fixed-term 12 month contract covering a maternity leave.”

“If you do plan to make such accusations, I will need a right of reply before [Ofcom’s emphasis] you publish given the seriousness of such an allegation.”

Ofcom declined to answer any of our questions about the appointment process.

We asked again but all the spokesman would say was:

“Ofcom is scrupulously impartial, and our track record shows that.”

“We make all our decisions without fear or favour, and free from any political influence.”

“All Ofcom appointments are made on their merits and any suggestion to the contrary is completely inaccurate.”

On April 4, Lloyd Watkins’ Ofcom Wales biography was amended.

His previous employment with the Labour Party had been removed.

♦♦♦

LAST WEEK Rebecca continued to press Ofcom to reveal more information about Elinor Williams and the appointment of Lloyd Watkins.

We submitted a request that the regulator answer a further 13 questions.

The same day the watchdog’s director of communications Chris Wynn wrote to say:

“I regret to say that I have taken the view that this request … is unreasonable.”

“You are of course welcome to submit your questions via FOI [Freedom of Information] where we will happily respond in line with our normal procedures.

“I would also like to put on record that you do not make unsubstantiated allegations against Ofcom members of staff and that you approach your article fairly and accurately within the boundaries of what you know to be facts, and not supposition.”

“Until now, I have helped you as much as possible but this now goes beyond what I believe is acceptable.”

However, when Rebecca made it clear this article would include the appointment of Lloyd Watkins, Chris Wynn told us:

“The post was advertised externally.”

This was one of the questions he’d previously told us were “unreasonable.”

Meanwhile, Ofcom is not saying when — or even if — a new Director Wales will be announced …

♦♦♦ 

Published: 9 May 2018
© Rebecca 2018

♦♦♦ 

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THE MISTRESS OF THE MAN FROM OFCOM

March 6, 2018

rebecca_logo_04THE WALES Director of broadcasting watchdog Ofcom, Rhodri Williams, is to step down.

It follows a turbulent time for the Cardiff office of the main UK communications regulator.

Last October Ofcom in London admitted that a controversial contract — awarded by the Cardiff office to the Welsh lobbying firm Deryn Consulting — had broken its procurement rules.

The contract was awarded in February 2016 without going out to tender.

We asked Ofcom if the contract was a factor in Rodri Williams’ decision to step down.

It did not answer the question.

A spokesman told Rebecca yesterday:

“Rhodri decided to leave Ofcom after 14 years.”

“He will leave Ofcom this month and we wish him all the best for the future.”

The clear favourite to replace Rhodri Williams is his deputy, Regulatory Affairs Manager Elinor Williams.

She is also his wife — and, before that, his mistress.

Her marriage to civil servant Geraint Williams collapsed in 2013.

Rhodri Williams’ marriage broke up shortly afterwards.

Rhodri and Elinor were married last year.

Rebecca does not investigate personal affairs — unless the relationship raises issues of public patronage.

Rhodri Williams

RHODRI “BILLIONS” WILLIAMS
RHODRI WILLIAMS is a poacher turned gamekeeper. Gaoled in the 1970s for his part in the campaign to create a Welsh TV channel, he tried to become a media tycoon in the 1990s. This is where the nickname “billions” comes from. He was one of the founders of Tinopolis, the Llanelli-based independent production company, but was dramatically dismissed in 2001. He was accused of diverting a valuable contract to a rival. Rebecca has investigated his career in the article A Man Of Conviction? Rebecca editor Paddy French has declared an interest in the coverage of Rhodri Williams — see the article A Licence To Censor for more details.
Photo: Ofcom

The couple met in the 1990s and Elinor Williams went on to work for public bodies controlled by Rhodri Williams.

She joined the Welsh Language Board in 2003 when he was Chairman.

She joined Ofcom Wales in 2007 when he was Director.

She stood in as Director when Rhodri Williams was seconded to London.

Her experience — and her personal connections — may deter qualified candidates from applying for the Director post.

Ofcom told us:

“We can confirm that appropriate measures are in place to ensure that any potential conflicts of interest are avoided.”

(After this article was posted, Ofcom also asked us to add the following statement:

“We are conducting an open and transparent recruitment process to appoint a Director for Wales.”)

♦♦♦

IN FEBRUARY 2016 Ofcom Wales negotiated a contract with the high-powered lobbying firm Deryn Consulting.

Formed in 2011, the company is owned by Cathy Owens, a former advisor to the late Rhodri Morgan, and former Plaid Cymru Assembly Member Nerys Evans.

The contract was to provide the Cardiff office with “monitoring of proceedings, debates and Government announcement in Wales and UK-wide.”

The existence of the contract — which did not go out to tender — did not emerge until a year later.

Journalists began investigating and Plaid Cymru Assembly Member Neil McEvoy started to ask questions.

In February 2017 Western Mail chief reporter Martin Shipton published an article about the affair.

Team-Deryn-June-2016

POWER BROKERS
DERYN CONSULTING is a powerful lobbying business. Formed in 2011, it’s owned by Cathy Owens (pictured, far right), a former adviser to Rhodri Morgan, and ex-Plaid Cymru Assembly Member Nerys Evans (on the left). Owens has a reputation as an abrasive character: once describing journalists as “bastards”. Nerys Evans is a former Plaid Cymru Director of Strategy. Chairman Huw Roberts, the only man in the picture, worked for BBC Wales and ITN in London. He was also a spin doctor to former Welsh Secretary Ron Davies.
Photo: Deryn

The piece revealed that Nerys Evans and Deryn chairman Huw Roberts were also members of Ofcom’s advisory committee for Wales.

Ofcom defended the awarding of the contract without going out to tender.

Deryn were:

“able to provide a bespoke service tailored to suit the specific needs of Ofcom in Wales: so, for example, monitoring of National Assembly for Wales committees is provided immediately after committee sessions.”

Ofcom declined to reveal the value of the contract.

Assembly Member Neil McEvoy was not impressed.

He told the Western Mail:

“There are well-established rules for public procurement of goods and services.”

“But they’ve awarded a contract to Deryn, without any competition …”

“It’s impossible to know whether Deryn offered the public value for money since no other companies were able to bid for the contract, even though there is no shortage of such companies.”

“Overall, this is highly damaging to Ofcom’s reputation.”

“The person on the street is getting tired of the cosiness and the constant stitch-ups amongst the Welsh political elite.”

He asked Ofcom to investigate.

Ofcom moved quickly to scotch the scandal.

It immediately — but secretly — axed the contract and in October last year partially abandoned its defence of the process.

Ofcom’s Director of Corporate Services, Alison Crosland, wrote to Neil McEvoy to say she had reviewed how the contract was awarded.

“This concluded that the way the contract was awarded was not consistent with Ofcom’s required processes and a competitive procurement should have been undertaken.”

But she decided that patronage had played no part in the decision:

“The review concluded that the decision to procure the service was  based on its usefulness, and the fact that employees of the supplier hold positions on the Advisory Committee had no bearing on the decision.”

Neil smiling lrg

NEIL McEVOY
THE OUTSPOKEN Assembly Member was expelled from Plaid Cymru in January following a spate of complaints. One of these came from Deryn directors Cathy Owens and Nerys Evans who accused McEvoy of bullying and intimidation. Nerys Evans, a former senior Plaid Cymru politician, said McEvoy “has sought to undermine and harm my reputation, and that of my company, Deryn, by a campaign of bullying and smears.” McEvoy claims some of the complaints against him were orchestrated by Deryn because he’s critical of the company.

“As a result of these findings,” she added, “those colleagues [responsible for the contract] will receive further training to ensure that procurement policies and procedures are followed properly in future.”

Rebecca understands “those colleagues” included Rhodri Williams and Elinor Williams.

The Ofcom contract was important to Deryn.

Shortly after the Ofcom contract was awarded in February 2016, Cathy Owens claimed “it’s been a spectacular few months for Deryn …”

2016 also proved successful financially.

Deryn was able to declare a dividend.

Cathy Owens received £78,000 and Nerys Evans £47,000 on top of their undisclosed salaries.

We approached Deryn for a comment but there was no reply by the time this article went to press.

♦♦♦

IT’S NOT known when the affair between Rhodri Williams and Elinor Williams began.

It’s been common knowledge in Cardiff and London for many years.

They were known as “Mr and Mrs Williams” because her married name was also Williams.

He is 61, she’s 46.

They first met in the 1990s.

In 1994 he was editor of the S4C programme Heno when it covered a talent competition held by the Welsh-language magazine Golwg.

Golwg was looking for amateur models and one of the contestants was Elinor Williams.

In October 2003 — by now married to civil servant Geraint Williams — she was appointed Director of Marketing and Communications of the Welsh Language Board.

ElinorWilliams

REGULATORY AFFAIRS
ELINOR WILLIAMS is a highly qualified candidate for the post of Director, Ofcom Wales. She joined Ofcom first as Communications Manager and then as Regulatory Affairs Manager. She held the post of Director, Ofcom Wales in 2012 when future husband Rhodri Williams was in London as acting head of UK Government and Regulatory Affairs.
Photo: Ofcom

Rhodri Williams — then chairman of the Welsh Language Board — said:

“We are delighted that Elinor will be joining us at the board.”

Two months later, he was offered the post of Director, Ofcom Wales.

The salary was between £80,000 and £110,000.

(His then wife, Siân Helen, is a close friend of former Labour Assembly Member Delyth Evans.

Delyth Evans’ partner is Ed Richards, who had been a media policy editor advisor to Tony Blair

Richards was appointed deputy chief executive of Ofcom early in 2003 and later took the top job in 2005.

He was not involved in the appointment of Rhodri Williams.)

In 2007 Elinor Williams joined Ofcom as Communications Manager.

She was later promoted to Regulatory Affairs Manager.

Rebecca asked Ofcom if Rhodri Williams was involved in these appointments.

Ofcom told us:

“We do not discuss individual employee matters.”

In January 2012 Rhodri Williams moved to Ofcom’s London HQ to become acting UK Director, Government and Regulatory Affairs.

While he was away, Elinor Williams was promoted to acting Director of the Wales office.

There was no appointment process — Ofcom says the post was “back-filled”.

Applications for the post of Ofcom Director Wales, close on March 19.

♦♦♦

Note
You can read more on this subject in the article  — Update: The Mistress Of The Man From Ofcom — published on 9 May 9 2018.

Correction
This article was corrected on March 10. We stated that Elinor Williams was appointed Ofcom’s Regulatory Affairs Manager in 2007. In fact, that position was Communications Manager — she was later promoted to Regulatory Affairs Manager. Apologies for the error.

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Published: 6
 March 2018
© Rebecca
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COMING UP
THE SISTER OF THE WOMAN FROM AUNTIE
PATRONAGE AND NEPOTISM have long been features of broadcasting in Wales. The Rebecca investigation of BBC Wales — which already includes the articles The Son Of The Man From Uncle and In The Name Of The Father? — continues with a detailed analysis of the crisis that engulfed the Corporation between 2008 and 2011. The article examines the controversial relationship between former Director Menna Richards and her sister. The current regime — headed by Rhodri Talfan Davies, the son of former BBC boss Geraint Talfan Davies, and a family friend of Menna Richards — declines to answer questions on the affair …

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THE RETURN OF THE BANK OF WALES

February 23, 2016

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TOMORROW THE American economist Ellen Brown will give a talk in Cardiff about setting up a Public Bank of Wales.

Brown is at the forefront of a US movement promoting publicly-owned banks as a solution to the problem of low growth and stagnant living standards.

The lecture is organised by Cardiff University Business School and the pressure group Arian Cymru.

Few attending the event will remember that nearly half a century ago the Liberal Party proposed a public Bank of Wales.

That initiative was sabotaged by the Welsh establishment which supported a rival — the Commercial Bank of Wales —  promoted by the moneylender Julian Hodge.

Backed by James Callaghan and George Thomas, both Cardiff MPs, Hodge’s bank was a fraud.

It was designed to enrich the elite while doing virtually nothing for the people of Wales.

It was taken over by the Bank of Scotland in 1986 and ceased trading in 2002.

The only exposé of this sordid episode was an investigation by the magazine Rebecca in 1977.

Called Cheque Mates: The Selling Of The Commercial Bank Of Wales, it’s reprinted here as a cautionary tale about the way the establishment worked in Wales back in the 1970s.

One of those who backed Hodge’s Bank, the former Controller of BBC Wales Geraint Talfan Davies, has been calling for its return.

In 2009, in the aftermath of the banking crisis, the Western Mail published an article by Talfan Davies.

“In this new situation,” he wrote, “the title Bank of Wales might have a real value for society and government in Wales.”

“After all, it is a name that has too much of a public resonance to languish as a discarded private pawn.”

“It should be regarded as a Welsh national asset.”

Talfan Davies did not say that the name had been tarnished by its association with the unscrupulous Hodge.

He did not say that he’d supported the Hodge bank — and revealed nothing of its sorry history …

images

THE MORNING of 9 February 1971 was an important occasion for Geraint Talfan Davies, then Welsh Affairs Correspondent of the Western Mail. First he attended the birth of his second son Rhodri (father and son would later lead BBC Wales). The father then rushed to join the celebrations of another birth — the Commercial Bank of Wales. On the top floor of Sir Julian Hodge’s Cardiff skyscraper, he was just in time to join the “Usurer of the Valleys” and former Welsh Secretary George Thomas. Thomas was smoking a giant cigar — Hodge puffing on his pipe. Talfan Davies had written some ‘supportive columns’ about the new bank — and there were high hopes for this new powerhouse of the Welsh economy. In his autobiography, At Arm’s Length (Seren, 2008), Talfan Davies admitted: “In the 1970s it appeared a more important victory than it turned out to be.” Talfan Davies went on to become the head of one of the most important cliques in modern Welsh history — and has been featured in a series of Rebecca Television articles (see The Son Of The Man From Uncle, In The Name of The Father? and The Great Welsh Water Robbery).   Photo: Seren    

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CHEQUE MATES: THE SELLING OF THE COMMERCIAL BANK OF WALES
Rebecca, Spring 1977

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FOR GEORGE THOMAS  ‘the biggest event for Wales in my lifetime’ was the launching of the Commercial Bank of Wales in February 1971.

At the time Thomas was Shadow Secretary of State for Wales in the Labour opposition and had been an MP for 20 years with five of them spent in Harold Wilson’s cabinet as Welsh secretary.

In his lifetime he had seen many changes in Wales — the nationalisation of the coal and steel industries, the introduction of the National Health Service, comprehensive education and even the Labour victory in the 1964 general election.

All were passed over.

And if the establishment of the bank was the ‘biggest event’ there was no doubt in his mind about the greatest Welshman — Julian Hodge, the Welsh merchant banker knighted the year before by Wilson’s government, and the man behind the bank.

“I believe,” said Thomas, “Sir Julian has done more for Wales than David Lloyd George and all of us politicians together.”

“I see this as an act of faith in the future of Wales. No one can measure what this bank could mean for us in the years ahead.”

No other comment by a Labour politician more accurately captures the political bankruptcy of the Labour party in its support for big business at the expense of ordinary people.

Julian Hodge was equally ecstatic but with good reason:

“I believe this is the first time for many years that a company with the word ‘bank’ in its title has been incorporated in the United Kingdom”.

It was no easy task — he had to overcome the resistance of Civil Service and Bank of England mandarins and beat off an attempt by the Liberals to set up a genuine Bank of Wales.

When the board of directors for the Commercial Bank of Wales — including George Thomas and James Callaghan — was announced in May 1972, Hodge admitted it was ‘like a dream come true’.

This article tells part of the incredible story of how two Labour Cabinet ministers helped the Welsh merchant banker to overcome all obstacles and make that dream come true.

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IN JUNE 1968 the Secretary of State for Wales bumped into the London financier John Ellis at a garden party held in the grounds of Buckingham Palace.

Ellis, chairman of a sizeable finance house in the City of London, was the prospective Liberal candidate for James Callaghan’s Cardiff South East constituency.

In the conversation that followed Ellis told George Thomas that there was a need for a Bank of Wales.

JULES ET JIM 2 1

GEORGE THOMAS fawned on Julian Hodge. The photograph shows Thomas presenting the merchant banker with a gold watch to celebrate his knighthood in 1970. Thomas turned a blind eye to the misery caused by the accountant-turned-moneylender in the 1960s and 1970s. Hodge made millions out of a ruthless second mortgage operation, some of it involving a fraudulent pyramid-selling scheme. The number of victims who lost their homes as a result of the scandal is not known — a Rebecca investigation in 1977 estimated it could have been as high as 5,000 …

Wales had no independent banks — unlike Scotland which boasted five — with the result that all financial decisions affecting Wales were taken in London.

More important, a Bank of Wales could organise a system where the ‘special deposits’ demanded by the Bank of England as a means of controlling the economy could be reduced.

At the time the five main clearing banks in England and Wales had to deposit 2 per cent of all the money they held with the Bank of England.

In Scotland the rate was only 1 per cent — if the figure had been the same for Wales then the clearing banks in Wales would have had an extra £25–30 million to spend.

Thomas was impressed by Ellis’ ideas and agreed to meet him in Cardiff to discuss his proposals in greater detail.

The meeting took place over lunch at the Queens Hotel in Cardiff’s St Mary Street on Saturday, 7 September 1968.

During the meal Ellis stressed that the bank could be opened at the same time as the planned investiture of the Prince of Wales in 1969 — with the heir to the throne becoming the first account holder.

Although it was never stated, there would be considerable prestige for George Thomas as the Secretary of State who acted as political midwife to the new bank.

So enthusiastic was Thomas — he went so far as to ask the banker to prepare a detailed memorandum on his scheme — that Ellis thought the idea well and truly sold.

It was not until the meal was over and the two men standing on the pavement outside the hotel that the conversation took an unexpected turn.

Ellis remembers the moment vividly because, looking back, it was in those seconds that the Liberal idea for a Bank of Wales died.

Thomas said — “what about Julian Hodge?”

He swept his arm along the frontage of the massive James Howell department store and added, “he owns all of this you know”.

A surprised Ellis replied that Hodge was welcome as a shareholder and director but the Bank of Wales would have nothing to do with either second mortgages or hire purchase agreements on second hand cars.

Before taking his leave, Thomas asked Ellis to send a copy of his memorandum to Julian Hodge.

He then promised to return and make a statement to waiting reporters.

An hour or an hour or so later, he rang Ellis at the hotel to say that he could not make a statement on the Bank of Wales at that time.

And that was the last Ellis was ever to hear from George Thomas — the Secretary of State never acknowledged the memorandum Ellis sent him (ironically enough, Hodge did) let alone reply to it.

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ELLIS PLOUGHED on nevertheless.

On 26 November 1968 he met the Chief Cashier of the Bank of England, Jasper Hollom, to discuss his proposals.

Hollom — now Sir Jasper and a deputy governor — was sympathetic and agreed that it was unfair that Wales should suffer the same rate of ‘special deposits’ as England.

Despite this, it soon became obvious to those involved in the Ellis scheme that they had come up against an official brick wall.

The campaign came to an end on 20 December 1968 when the Board of Trade refused permission for the bank on the grounds that it was not owned by an existing bank or a company with a strong financial position.

In fact Ellis had plenty of banking support — what was then the National Provincial Bank (now part of National Westminster) was interested as were the powerful merchant bankers N. M. Rothchild and Sons.

But the Board of Trade decision was a clear sign that a Bank of Wales along the lines suggested by Ellis and the Liberals would not be tolerated.

And, as they would settle for nothing less, they excepted that they had been beaten.

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WHILE THE Liberal campaign for a Bank of Wales was grinding to a halt, Julian Hodge was quietly preparing the ground for what was to become the Commercial Bank of Wales.

Part of the groundwork was to shut out the possibility of a Liberal-inspired Bank of Wales.

In these preparations George Thomas, then Secretary of State for Wales, played an important part.

RHUDDLAN PENNY

HODGE CHOSE a 12th century Welsh penny as the symbol of the Bank of Wales. In February 1972 he proclaimed it would “be an independent bank with no company or group of companies holding more than 10 per cent of the shares.” By October the same year, the Hodge Group held 16 per cent and the First National Bank of Chicago 20 per cent …

It was he who set up the Welsh Council in 1968 and appointed Julian Hodge as one of its 14 members.

The first task of the Council, decided at its second meeting in June 1968, was to set up a Finance Panel “to enquire into the availability of public and private capital in Wales for development purposes and to look at means of improving the flow if difficulties were found to exist.”

When George Thomas met Ellis at Buckingham Palace, and again in Cardiff, he made no mention of the Finance Panel deliberations that were to lead to the Commercial Bank of Wales.

The Ellis campaign certainly worried Hodge — it was a public campaign by a political party (a Bank of Wales was proposed in the 1970 Liberal manifesto) while Hodge’s strategy was to persuade a small group of key people that his bank was a sound idea.

When the details of Ellis’ memorandum were released in October 1968 Hodge was forced into the open.

The proposals in the Ellis document, he commented, were not realistic.

“The setting up of a national Bank for Wales is an extremely complicated business, requiring a great deal of research.”

He added — “this work is now being carried out by the Finance Panel of the Welsh Council”.

When Ellis was seeking Board of Trade approval for the Liberal Bank of Wales, the Western Mail noted (22 October 1968) — “a projected investment bank is also being considered by the finance committee of the Welsh Council, who will be reporting soon to the Secretary of State for Wales”.

By the time the Finance Panel report presented its report to the full Welsh Council meeting at Llandudno on 21 April 1969, its purpose was revealed to be little more than a thinly disguised attempt to justify a Hodge-controlled Bank of Wales.

The report was not finally published until 7 October 1969.

Under the title The Availability of Capital for Small Firms in Wales, it stated “that a financial institution with a commitment to Wales … is urgently required”.

It recommended “that, if private sources should put up viable proposals for the registration of a bank or a similar institution, the authorities concerned should pay full regard to the analysis and recommendations contained in this paper “.

At Llandudno the Welsh Council, with just one dissenting vote, accepted the report — handing George Thomas a blank cheque to give the political go-ahead for a Bank of Wales.

On the very same day Hodge admitted that “some months ago, preliminary steps were taken through our solicitors towards registering a company with a proposed initial capital of £5 million to be called the Bank of Wales”.

What could be more blatant?

And Rebecca can now reveal that the published report was completely different to the one presented to the Welsh Council at Llandudno in April 1969.

The earlier version was far more pointed — its title was The Case for an Indigenous Investment Bank in Wales — and it was never published.

This first version ends:

“Finally, the Council are of the opinion that if some private source should put up really sound proposals for the registration of a bank or similar institution then the authorities concerned should, when considering the application, have full and sympathetic regard to the views of the Council as to the benefits which would accrue to Wales from a firmly-based and financially viable institution of this sort.”

The published report says sources, the earlier unpublished version mentions a single source and there can be no doubt to what it was referring — Julian Hodge’s plans for a Commercial Bank of Wales.

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THE FINANCE Panel report was one of the meanest and most poorly argued documents ever to come out of a Welsh Office sponsored body.

After ten months of work on what Hodge himself described as ‘an extremely complicated business, requiring a great deal of research’, the Panel produced a report exactly eight pages long.

There were just 31 paragraphs — four dealt with other countries and a further nine were taken up by a minority report that came up against the whole idea of a Bank of Wales.

Most of the evidence was oral and there were only five witnesses.

RHUDDLAN PENNY

WHEN REBECCA asked the Welsh Office for a copy of the Welsh Council’s Finance Panel report, it sent — by accident — an earlier draft which talked of a single source for a possible bank. When the report was finally published, the word had changed to “sources”…

With so few ‘experts’ giving evidence, it must have been deeply embarrassing to the panel that two of them felt there was no need for a bank.

The local director of one of the clearing banks ‘stated that he knew of no case in Wales when money had been refused for industrial development’.

The general manager of the government-backed Industrial and Commercial Finance Corporation ‘suggested that the problem was not so much a shortage of finance in Wales as a relative lack of demand’.

Although the Confederation of British Industry in Wales and the Development Corporation for Wales were more enthusiastic, they could provide little in the way of hard evidence.

In the words of the report — “their views were that, whether or not a general flow of finance appeared adequate, there were known to be a certain number of cases where firms have been unable to raise finance without a great deal of difficulty, despite the fact that their subsequent history has shown them to be successful”.

No names, no evidence — and the companies mentioned did get their money.

Indeed, and ironically, the only ‘concrete’ evidence was to come from ‘a well-known merchant banker’ — none other than Julian Hodge, a member of the Panel.

Hodge “supplied confidential evidence of a number of cases where firms, unable to raise credit from normal sources, had approached his firm and had thereby been enabled to show a successful subsequent growth record, even though his firm, as a merchant bank, concerned largely largely with short-term bridging finance, was not so ideally suited to deal with, and further develop, this kind of business as would be an investment bank designed purposely to meet such a demand “.

Thus it was Hodge’s confidential — and therefore secret — evidence that formed the basis of the Finance Panel recommendation that a (Hodge-controlled) Bank of Wales should be established.

Only one member of the panel did not swallow this rubbish.

In his minority report, the district secretary of the APEX trade union, Graham Saunders, wrote:

“in my opinion, insufficient evidence was presented to the Finance Panel of the Welsh Council, demonstrating that there is a real shortage of Risk Capital in Wales and, therefore, the conclusions of the Welsh Council in my view are irrelevant “.

He suggested that, instead of relying on evidence presented by one of its own members, the Finance Panel investigate the lack of demand for capital and look for ways to increase it.

But the Finance Panel was clearly not interested in considering such complex questions questions — its report didn’t examine the impact of the regional aid policy or the ‘special deposits’ that were one of the central features features of the Ellis memorandum — and concentrated on giving Julian Hodge exactly what he wanted.

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BUT THIS is only part of the selling of the Commercial bank of Wales.

The most important gaps being the parts played at Board of Trade, Bank of England and Cabinets levels by George Thomas and James Callaghan.

JULES ET JIM 2

JAMES CALLAGHAN’S friendship with Julian Hodge — the “Usurer of the Valleys” as Private Eye called him — was long-standing. Hodge supported Callaghan’s election campaigns and often gave work to his constituency agent Jack, later Lord, Brooks. After he resigned as Chancellor in 1967, Callaghan attended the annual conference of the International monetary Fund as the guest of Julian Hodge …

There are clues however.

On 3 March 1971, for example, the Western Mail gossip column carried this intriguing item on the chairmanship of the bank:

“I am reliably informed that the shortlist has been narrowed down to two eminent candidates — former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Leonard James Callaghan and William David Ormsby-Gore, Fifth Baron Harlech and chairman of Harlech Television.”

Another clue to the role of Callahan came with the Stonehouse row in the House of Commons in April 1976.

Stonehouse, the runaway Labour MP now gaoled, attacked the relationship between Hodge and Callaghan.

Stonehouse told the House that the head of the Civil Service (Sir William Armstrong now chairman of the Midland Bank) “named Sir Julian Hodge as a person who couldn’t be appointed to the Bank of England Court — although he was nominated by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer the present Prime Minister (Callaghan) — because he was not a worthy person for the appointment”.

When Hodge was asked by a reporter about this remark, he flippantly replied “its complete news to me. I think that was a figment of Mr Stonehouse’s imagination. I have never heard of it before but it is very interesting”.

It is surprising that Sir William Armstrong has never publicly denied opposing Hodge as a member of the Bank of England Court.

And Hodge’s reply must also be set against a revealing profile of him which appeared in May 1966.

Written by the then Conservative MP and South Wales industrialist Sir David Llewellyn, and published in the Voice Of Welsh Industry, the two-page article explained that Julian Hodge had ‘arrived’ as a member of the establishment.

“So much so,” continued Llewellyn, “that recently his name is been canvassed as a new Director of the Bank of England. Since he enjoys the Chancellor’s confidence (Mrs Hodge was the guest of the annual dinner of Cardiff South East Constituency Labour Party), the chances are this is an honour deferred.”

RHUDDLAN PENNY

IN APRIL 1969 Hodge said that “the more successful it is making profits, the more funds it will bring to bear on the problems of developing Welsh industry.” A week later, he’d changed his tune: “It must be recognised that in the development business we cannot always behave like hard-fisted moneylenders.”

Nor was this mere gossip or idle speculation — Llewellyn was not only a director of four Hodge companies but also a close friend of the family and there can be little doubt that his words echoed Hodge’s personal feelings on the subject.

The reason why these clues are important is a simple one.

Although the certificate of incorporation for the Commercial Bank of Wales was issued during the Heath administration, the political go-ahead may have come much earlier .

There are many people — John Ellis among them — who believe the green light was given in the dying weeks of the 1964-70 Wilson government.

So why did George Thomas and James Callaghan favour the Commercial Bank of Wales?

All the promises made for it soon evaporated and, unlike the people of Wales, the two politicians must surely have known this would happen — and that the Ellis bank would have served Wales better.

In March 1973 Hodge explained that Thomas and Callaghan joined the board of directors because of their dedication to the Welsh economy.

He added:

“I shudder to think what some of the areas in Wales would be like today without their masterly help in the past.”

You only have to walk the single mile from the Commercial Bank of Wales headquarters in St Mary Street to the decay of Riverside in George Thomas’ constituency or the squalor of James Callaghan’s Roath to understand the bitter betrayal that the selling of the Commercial Bank of Wales represents.

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IT WAS not just George Thomas and James Callaghan who backed the Commercial Bank of Wales — the Labour Party in Wales also gave it support.

Besides Thomas and Callaghan, each with £5,000 worth of shares, other Labour MPs also bought shares in the bank.

The present Secretary of State John Morris had £1,300 worth, Leo Abse (£4,000), Donald Coleman (£500), Ifor Davies (£100), Fred Evans (£1,000), Cledwyn Hughes (£1,000) and Alec Jones (£500),

Many Labour councillors — such as formal Cardiff City Council planning chairman David Seligman with £100 — also supported the enterprise.

RHUDDLAN PENNY

“JIM CALLAGHAN will not, according to Julian Hodge, receive ‘any remuneration as a director’ — any more than will George Thomas,” reported the New Statesman in August 1972. The Western Mail noted, in March 1974, that “Cardiff MPs Mr James Callaghan and Mr George Thomas have resigned as £1,000-a-year directors of the Commercial Bank of Wales because they have been appointed to posts in the government.”

“The general feeling of the time,” according to Emrys Jones, secretary of the Welsh Labour Party, “was that a bank of this nature established in Wales could be of value in aiding industry and helping to attract new industry into Wales.”

What did these Labour politicians get for their support — besides dividends — and, more important, what benefits came to the people of Wales?

In April 1976, when Callaghan became Prime Minister and there was criticism of his links with the Welsh merchant banker, Hodge strongly defended the bank’s record.

“Jim believed in the importance of a regional bank for Wales and events have shown that belief to have been abundantly justified because the Bank of Wales in the past two years has been instrumental in providing thousands of jobs for the indigenous people that they would not otherwise have got.”

“It has been a tremendous help to Welsh industry in the past two years. Thousands of jobs have been saved and I can prove it ”

As usual no one challenged the ‘Welsh wizard’ to prove that ‘thousands of jobs have been saved’ by the bank and that it has succeeded in ‘providing thousands of jobs’.

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THE BANK is not independent — despite an attempt by chief executive Michael Gwyther to prove otherwise.

On October 26 he told the Western Mail — “a surprising number of the public do not realise that the Commercial Bank of Wales is an independent organisation with 7,000 shareholders”.

Gwyther forgot to mention that in, October 1972, sixteen of these 7,000 owned 57 per cent of the bank with the remaining 6,984 shareholders held less than 40 per cent.

Today, in 1977, two shareholders control 42 per cent of the bank.

Gwyther’s main concern in the Western Mail article was to prove that people were wrong in assuming the Commercial Bank of Wales to be a Hodge bank.

An extensive press and TV advertising campaign is partly designed to emphasise its independent identity.

The most significant of these appeared in the Western Mail in December 1976.

It quoted Charlie Webber, general manager of Avana Bakeries in Cardiff, on the installation of an air conditioning unit in part of the plant.

“It was,” he said, “the Commercial Bank of Wales who gave us the courage to invest at a time when industry was in recession and the food industry particularly badly hit.”

A glowing tribute by any standards — except Rebecca’s.

The ad left out the most significant factor of all — the chairman of the Avana Group and holder of 6.9 per cent of the ordinary shares, is none other than the chairman of the Commercial Bank of Wales, Sir Julian Hodge.

Much more important — just two months before Gwyther stressed the independence of the bank in the Western Mail — Hodge had become its largest shareholder.

In August he quietly bought out the Standard Chartered Banking Group, increasing his family stake in the bank from 6 to 22 per cent …

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SO MUCH for the bank’s independence — now for its Welshness.

In the same Western Mail article Gwyther added that Hodge “regards it as the bank of the people of Wales, Welsh-based with a Welsh board, having a Welsh outlook and primarily concerned with the Welsh economy “.

The bank of the people of Wales?

Although the bank has bilingual cheque-books and uses the 12th century ‘Rhuddlan penny’  from North Wales as its symbol, one in every five shares is owned by a subsidiary of the First National Bank of Chicago, the ninth largest US bank with deposits of £19 billion.

The ‘Welsh board’ contains two American nominees of the First National Bank.

“Primarily concerned with the Welsh economy?”

Almost half of the bank’s activity – the so-called ‘instalment credit’ business that includes hire purchase and second mortgages — is of no direct benefit to welsh industry.

In 1975 the bank lent £7.4 million in this way and almost 80 per cent went to clients outside Wales.

The bank lent exactly the same amount to industry in the form of loans and overdrafts — yet nearly a third went to companies outside Wales.

Only half of one percent of all requests for finance were successful and the policy of the bank, in the words of the Western Mail, is one of ‘spreading investment as widely and thinly as possible’.

The money that is lent Welsh industry does not come cheaply — in January the banks base rate was 15 per cent compared to the Co-op’s 14 per cent, with overdrafts often a great deal more expensive.

The performance of the Commercial bank of Wales is a far cry from the extravagant claims made for it back in the early seventies.

Emrys Jones, Welsh Labour Party secretary, admits “it doesn’t seem to have lived up to its promises”.

The truth is that the Commercial Bank of Wales is not, and was never intended to be, a genuine Bank of Wales.

Unlike the Liberal proposals — which included a Board of Trustees ‘drawn from the trade unions, Welsh Farmers Union, industry and the universities’ to make sure ‘the Bank of Wales will belong to the people of Wales’ —  the prime concern of the Commercial Bank of Wales is to make profits for Sir Julian Hodge.

And his friends …

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COMING UP
THE INVESTIGATION into the closed world of BBC Wales continues with a detailed analysis of the crisis that engulfed the Corporation between 2008 and 2011. The article — The Sister Of The Woman From Auntie — examines the relationship between former Director Menna Richards and her sister. The current regime — headed by Rhodri Talfan Davies, a family friend of Menna Richards — has taken the unprecedented step of announcing it will no longer answer questions from Rebecca Television 

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