Letter from Wales: A Welsh Bonfire of Vanities

by Julian Ruck

£300m of taxpayers’ money over the last 10 years for Welsh arts and Wales has some of the lowest literacy and numeracy standards in Europe!

Tom Wolfe has railed against the excessive and greedy vanities of New York society.

One cannot help but wonder what he would make of the flapping, arrogant, self-indulgent squawks and bloated vanities of the Welsh arts scene, full to the brim as it is, with taxpayer largesse and unable to write one word, bend one piece of metal, stretch one sweaty leotard or paint one plate without ‘financial assistance’ being attached.

Allow me to give you some recent examples:

This year’s ‘Creative Wales Awards’, courtesy of those jet setters at the Arts Council of Wales, airline tickets paid by Carwyn’s Team Druid of course (note the Biennale farce reported in previous columns):

£264,779 (FOI) ie 12 awards of £25,000 a pop to allow, and I quote, ‘an individual artist’s vision to be explored, tested and re-imagined without the need to create a ‘final’ performance or exhibition’. Indeed one recipient, a Welsh poet, has received his £25,000 of taxpayers’ money to go to America to improve his lyrical expertise – madness, and a profound abuse of the hard-pressed taxpayer.

The real beauty however must be Gareth Clark, who has been awarded £24,894 ‘to remove himself from everyday comforts and conventions of life and put himself in a place to contemplate and reflect’!!! Well he could do this at his local Job Centre, much cheaper, and I can’t quite see £24,894 forcing him to hawk the Big Issue on street corners either (readers should go to:  http://www.wai.org.uk/news/5990 to observe more of these ridiculous but supremely insulting taxpayer hand outs).

Over the years these Welsh Creative Awards have cost the taxpayer millions and what exactly do most of them achieve?

Nothing.

No exhibitions, no sales and an audience equivalent to the footfall at a garden centre flogging Japanese knotweed.

Creative Wales Awards? Gold plated dole more like, for Welsh artists and writers to stay at home and ‘re-imagine’ their artistic genius. Perish the thought, that like most writers and artists they should have to work to support their ‘art’ or achieve some kind of commercial success.

The Wales Book of the Year is yet another hermetic Crachach exercise in pure artistic narcissism that would simply cease to exist if the taxpayer pulled the plug.

But then since 1999 and the mythical incompetence of Carwyn’s Team Druid, Wales has become a sweaty withdrawal riven, devout and clamouring taxpayer junky, so say no more.

Literature Wales, yet another arm of Wales DWP Direct and sister quango of the ACW, is now boasting, and I mean boasting, that it has distributed £1m of taxpayers’ money in ‘Buy Time Bursaries’ to the Welsh literati ie a taxpayer bung to Welsh writers and poets so that they can duck having to work for a living and which enables them to wander around their homes all day thinking about ideas for books. You see, they don’t have to produce a finished manuscript or have it published. They just have to do a bit of ‘literary’ thinking!

In 2012, Literature Wales organised a bi-lingual literary festival at Dinefwr Castle, West Wales. Druid Carwyn’s patronage (through the ACW)? £65,000. Ticket sales amounted to £15,321, broken down this means about 300 tickets sold (FOI data) and a £50,000 loss to the taxpayer.

So much for the 2500 visitors that Literature Wales claimed on its website?

And what did its ever elusive Chief Executive Officer and doyen of Taffia Western Mail cosy  churnalism, one Lleucu Siencyn, have to say about this literary hissing squib?

“The flourishing publishing industry that exists in Wales today, is defiant in the light of the economic climate.”

What?! Flourishing?!Defiant?!

There wouldn’t be one Welsh publisher without the millions from the taxpayer and you know it, Lleucu. Every single one of them would go bankrupt in minutes without Carwyn’s unscrutinised and extravagant spending sprees on his public purse gold credit card. They print and publish Welsh books and poetry that few people are interested in and even fewer read, thus their manic resistance to ever release sales figures. But consider this, one of the conditions for a Welsh publishing grant, is that the title must be ‘expected to run at a deficit’ and God forbid that Welsh writers self-publish on the internet like thousands of others and at no cost to the taxpayer – as usual, abject failure in Wales is rewarded and lionised!

And what has the learned, socially aware Arts Council of Wales done for the June 2014 Dinefwr Literature Festival? It’s nearly doubled the grant from £65,000 to £100,000 (FofI data).

Conclusion?

More losses for the taxpayer. No accountability and no scrutiny.

First Minister Jones, his Team Druid and Welsh arts spongers would do well to read Alexander  Pope, instead of their obsessive Dylan Thomas fare (who incidentally, never received one penny from the taxpayer, although this didn’t seem to effect his genius, did it?) and ‘How to Screw the Taxpayer’ self-help books. I’m thinking here along Pope’s triumphant view where his own independent success was concerned, he could “….. live and thrive, not indebted to any Prince or Peer alive.”

I’m not so sure about Welsh Labour or the ACW  being aristocratic, albeit that they believe they have a divine right to splash taxpayers’ money around at will, but then historical Welsh ‘Princes’ being nothing but cattle thieving brigands, they may well have something in common.

The Taffy piece de resistance however, must be BBC Wales.

As reported in previous Uncut columns (and in the national press), a good number of its presenters and a journo or two – not to mention its previous controller – have either received personal taxpayer hand-outs for their autobiographies amounting to many thousands of pounds (although not so much of the ‘auto’ I hazard, most of these books have been written by ghosts) or their Welsh ‘publishers’ have received grants to publish them – in many instances the public purse has been nobbled twice. A pay-out to the author and a pay-out to the Welsh publisher to publish them.

And there is more than meets the eye at the studios of BBC Wales’ flagship television news programme BBC Wales Today.

Derek Brockway its ebullient weatherman, has had his books about traipsing around Welsh mountain tops etc, paid for by the taxpayer too – one can’t help wondering if his designer outdoor weatherman weeds were also part of the deal?

And what about taxpayer funded royalties to all these BBC Wales presenters come amateur scribblers?

Mr Brockway’s Welsh publisher Y Lolfa, confirmed tax payer subsidy but refused to comment on royalty payments, such comment being ‘inappropriate’.

The BBC’s press office response? Here it is word for word:

Dear Mr Ruck, 

Thank you very much for your contact with the BBC Press Office on Thursday 8th May and again on Monday 12th May. 

Firstly, I should make you aware of the fact that the BBC should not disclose confidential information relating to individual commercial and/or contractual matters and transactions, unless required to do so by law.  More specifically, the matters which you enquire about appear to be regarding contractual arrangements between third parties not involving the BBC and in such cases the BBC would not be privy to such terms or information. 

Thank you again for your enquiries. 

Readers must draw their own conclusions but it would appear that it’s not quite enough for BBC Wales’ staffers to be paid by the taxpayer, they must also have their life stories squeezed out of the public purse too! It should also be noted here, that a BBC Wales journalist, one Brian Meechan, has also received £4000 from the taxpayer for his own unwritten, let alone published, ‘book’?

Karen Owen, former Producer of Religious Programmes at BBC Cymru, has just received £6000 from Literature Wales, I assume to‘re-imagine’ a bit of rhyming verse, as has yet another BBC Wales former Assistant Editor of Welsh Current Affaires, one Catrin Geralt, who has just been given £3000 – but get this, M/s Geralt is on the very Literature Wales Management Board that dishes out all these literary alms!!

Readers will be forgiven for concluding that there is no cronyism like Crachach cronyism.

And the BBC Trustees didn’t want to know about any of this, everything is as it should be according to them.

Now, before the arts munching Islington smart set intelligentsia, and artistic highfalutin’ Welsh masks of self-righteous banditry, start grimacing with agony at the prospect of all civilisation coming to an end without state funding for the arts, they might just wish to consider the following:

Literacy in Wales is ranked at 41out of 65 countries and is the worst in the UK (PISA report 2014). So much for Welsh arts making a noble contribution to the aesthetic future of Wales and its farcical claims to improving the literacy of  Welsh youth?

Imagine how many copies of Gerard Manley ap Hopkins’ ‘The Wreck of Wales’ and new computers for Welsh schools, £300m would buy?

Welsh libraries are being shut down wholesale. One is reminded here of those well-read, informed working class aristocrats of the Welsh mining communities, who strove as far  back as the late 19th Century, to build  Workmen’s Institutes boasting magnificent libraries, all paid for with their blackened picks and shovels.

The Welsh were once the most literate people in Europe.

One cannot help but consider what those miners would think of the untouchable and unprincipled Welsh arts glitterati now?

Severe child poverty in Wales is higher than any other part of the UK outside London, and I’m not even going to start on the state of the Welsh economy and NHS.

And to cap it all, Welsh food banks just can’t keep up with demand!

Readers may also wish to observe that the Arts Council of Wales funding for 2013/14 was  £34,126m, and for 2014/2015? £33,021m.

Social services cuts. Benefit cuts. Salary cuts. Pension cuts.

Austerity for Welsh ‘arts’? Don’t make me laugh.

So, that’s millions going on the few (and not to mention multiple bursaries/grants going to the same people, Crachach Welsh ‘Creative Writing’ academics are past masters at this particular wheeze) to wail with deluded pique and shifty self-justification that ‘I write, therefore I am’ and ‘Aren’t I bloody wonderful, I’m improving the miserable lot of the swinish multitude’! Edmund Burke had something else in mind when he considered learning being cast into the mire, and it sure as hell wasn’t a taxpayer Taffia Express gravy train overloaded with inept Welsh writers and artists, speeding out of control!

State funding for the arts has a place, it can have a beneficial economic impact and it does  add fibre to societal endeavour.

But  it should certainly not be used for those who already have a few quid, for a canapé guzzling, self-important elite to prance around in front of empty stalls, knock out a stanza or two, write a couple of chapters when they feel like it, or to create some unintelligible ‘conceptual’ land fill fodder that no-one gives a damn about.

To conclude?

I can’t help wondering what Bernard Shaw, the Webb’s or for that matter R H Tawney would make of all this?

PS BBC Wales announced on 7.5.14 that Welsh language S4C’s peak time audience viewing figures have dropped by a sixth. That’s a sixth of 1%!

S4C has cost the UK taxpayer over one billion to date.

Julian Ruck is a novelist, broadcaster and columnist. His most recent novel is ‘The Silver Songsters’ (pub. April 2014).  


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30 Responses to “Letter from Wales: A Welsh Bonfire of Vanities”

  1. Gillian Brightmore says:

    It is high time that the question of arts funding to selected individuals , and often regular recipients ,in Wales from WAC /Literature Wales was a matter of national scrutiny and public debate as it should be in any democratic society.

  2. tafia says:

    gillian, it is in the public domain and FoI. Thing Jools can’t accept is that nobody gives a toss – in the big scheme of things it is a long way behind in most peoples priorites, dog fouling fouling in urban areas and bus shelters that stink of piss.

    Sour grapes I feel because a tuppence ha’penny scribbler resents not getting his slice of the pie.

  3. Madasafish says:

    I the Welsh want to waste their money — that’s up to them..

    These are the perils of devolution… which Labour promoted..

    If you devolve decision making to proven incompetents , what do you expect?

    (See also the Edinburgh tram system)..

    Central Government just wastes bigger sums of money on wars and soon to be HS2..

  4. The Gwerner says:

    Oh dear, Julian. Not your year again..?

  5. To The Gwerner?

    Actually, I have enjoyed an extremely good year so far, as plainly evidenced by the Media page on my website.

    If you are implying that I have somehow missed out on the Welsh arts gravy train, then be assured that I have never received any such taxpayer largesse, nor indeed have I ever even applied for same.

    I would consider any such hand out to be an insult to my work.

    Last week, Literature Wales made an unsolicited request to my publisher’s for four copies of The Silver Songsters – to be submitted for the Wales Book of the Year.

    No reply was made and no copies were sent, nor will they be.

    Such an ‘award’ doesn’t even merit four free paperbacks.

    Julian Ruck

  6. john abell says:

    Julian, do you actually think writing as bad as yours, eligible for the Welsh Book of the Year? You have to be joking?

    Anyone who cares for literature will understand how frightfully bad the first chapter of your latest novel is, but here it is for readers amusement.

    http://www.julianruck.co.uk/books/silver-songster-chapter.html

    Julian, you’ve not even got yourself a real publisher. Dinefwr printers are a printers, the shock of it, and set up with a grant from Camarthenshire county council.

    https://plus.google.com/107579414492524320373/about?gl=uk&hl=en

    And Gill Brightmore, you had a WBC grant for a book you failed to produce, to be published by a tax payer funded publishers, who incidentally are the only people who have ever published your work! Will you be paying the money back soon Gill? The comments thread on this is amusing.

    http://literaturewales.wordpress.com/cash/

    Julian, you are as always a bit of a joke with no comprehension of government expenditure or artistic talent, no one listens to you. Are you allowed back in the Spar yet?

    http://www.llanellistar.co.uk/Author-Julian-Ruck-banned-Spar-store-Kidwelly/story-20413355-detail/story.html

    Out of interest, you frequently pluck ‘facts’ from your bum.

    ‘The Welsh were once the most literate people in Europe.’

    When were we, and where do you get this ‘fact’?

  7. Julian – we’ve been over the points in this blog before, in person and online, and you have yet to add anything new that you haven’t already stated. I’m not sure if i can even be bothered this time. I might just post up links to previous bits of correspondence we’ve had, so I’m not repeating myself. The only difference between this post and the ones you made last year is that you seem to be pouring forth a lot more vitriol. Be careful, Jules! Didn’t you have surgery not so long ago? Maybe you should consider taking it easy.

    I will however take issue with your statement regarding Welsh Book of the Year 2014. You state that LiteratureWales made an unsolicited request for four copies of the Silver Songsters to be submitted to WBOTY last week. Why would LitWales do such a thing when the shortlist was announced via live video stream on 9 May? That makes no sense whatsoever.

    Further to this point, if you go to the announcement page (at http://walesbookoftheyear.co.uk/2014-award/ ) it is possible to scroll down to where it says ‘eligible english language books’. This is the longlist, technically. If you click on fiction and scroll through the 30-odd books listed, you’ll see that ‘The Silver Songsters’ isn’t even there. The Silver Songsters wasn’t considered eligible (nor for the creative non fiction award, which it could have been, as it is partly based on your father-in-law’s extraordinary story).

    What gives, Julian? Did LitWales accidentally leave your name out of the eligible list and forget to announce The Silver Songsters from the live video stream at Hay? That sounds rather unfortunate. No wonder you don’t feel like you’re getting your tax-money’s worth.

  8. Paddy says:

    So why did you send your books to two well-known Welsh publishers and then cut up nasty when they turned you down?
    Can you declare an interest here please?
    You wanted some gravy for yourself and you’re angry and now self-publish.

  9. Mr Ruck, in what way does ignoring a polite request reflect well on your publishers? I certainly wouldn’t expect such behaviour from any of mine. I’d call it unprofessional and rude.

  10. Kenneth says:

    Julain,

    My name is KENNETH and whilst I do understand your frustration, I must disagree. You are going for click bait, trollovision articles that have no substance or fact. It is also an err that you reveal how angry and bitter you are. You do not have a publisher for your written dreck: you pay a printer to print your books.

    I, KENNETH, am not saying you can’t write a chip paper rag vitriol piece (clearly you can). However you should avoid subjects driven by anger because all that happens is you end up flacid and defeated.

    Yours,

    KENNETH

  11. To Kenneth,

    Flaccid?

    I don’t think so, I always have plenty of Viagra to hand!

    Julian Ruck

  12. stevemosby says:

    Julian –

    “£264,779 (FOI) ie 12 awards of £25,000 a pop to allow, and I quote, ‘an individual artist’s vision to be explored, tested and re-imagined without the need to create a ‘final’ performance or exhibition’. Indeed one recipient, a Welsh poet, has received his £25,000 of taxpayers’ money to go to America to improve his lyrical expertise – madness, and a profound abuse of the hard-pressed taxpayer.

    The real beauty however must be Gareth Clark, who has been awarded £24,894 ‘to remove himself from everyday comforts and conventions of life and put himself in a place to contemplate and reflect’!!! Well he could do this at his local Job Centre, much cheaper, and I can’t quite see £24,894 forcing him to hawk the Big Issue on street corners either (readers should go to: http://www.wai.org.uk/news/5990 to observe more of these ridiculous but supremely insulting taxpayer hand outs).”

    Did you really waste taxpayers’ money with an FOI request when all this information is readily available on the website? Seriously?

    I think you also need to address Joao Morais’ question regarding your assertion about the Welsh Book of the Year – although as Ramsey Campbell notes, your conduct does you no credit regardless.

  13. To all you fans of mine,

    Following my questions at the Senate press conferences this morning, a report on the ACW has already been filed with the Wales Audit Office.

    If there is no satisfaction here I am told, the next step may well be a Public Accounts Committee inquiry.

    Julian Ruck

    PS If my refusal to engage with the Literature Wales request is in doubt Jaoa, do please contact Lleucu Siencyn, its Chief Executive Officer. I am confident that the lady will confirm every word I have written above.

    I cannot post the actual email, as this would be in breach of communication confidentiality.

    As to which year they were interested in I have no idea, I haven’t bothered to find out.

  14. dave says:

    self-published works are not eligible for literary prizes, which is why Ruck’s ‘novels’ do not get requested, or accepted when they’re sent.
    This is why Ruck tried to get published by the same publishers he now attacks.

  15. To Kenneth,

    For the benefit of Uncut readers, do please point out where my facts are incorrect or lack substance??

    Flamboyant critiques of my so called fish & chip shop piffle are all very well, but they don’t quite enjoy the virtue of intelligent, if adversarial, incisiveness do they?

    Julian Ruck

  16. “As to which year they were interested in I have no idea, I haven’t bothered to find out.”

    In the rulebook, it is stated that books must “be published for the first time (in either Welsh or English) in the calendar year preceding the award” (rule 2, available to view here http://walesbookoftheyear.co.uk/eligibility/ )

    As The Silver Songsters was published in April, it would have to be entered in the 2014 award.

    The judges would also need a good couple of months to read the eligible books – it wouldn’t surprise me if the judges received them in January, including any proof/review copies of titles yet to be published.

    It seems odd to me that LitWales would ask for 4 copies of SS to be considered for WBOTY 2014 in early June when the shortlist was announced in early May.

  17. Tafia says:

    Following my questions at the Senate

    Where’s that then. Do you mean the National Assembly building/Senedd? Can’t even get that right – no wonder they can’t be arsed with you.

  18. Robert says:

    Julian clearly does not like the Welsh government. We will find out if the Welsh people agree when the next election is held (next year?).

  19. To Ramsey Campbell,

    Literature Wales does not respond to FofI requests, neither as a publicly funded body, does it respond to reasonable democratic enquiry.

    I treat like with like.

    Simple.

    Julian Ruck

  20. To Robert,

    Bearing in mind that according to a recent BBC Wales poll, 85% of Welsh people are satisfied with the education system in Wales, no doubt they will yet again vote Welsh Labour.

    This being the case, they only have themselves to blame for Wales’ Banana Republic status.

    JR

  21. To Steve Mosby,

    My conduct doing me no credit?

    Now that really is rich coming from such an inadequate but noisy little tadpole such as you.

    To use your elegant and expert literary repartee, I’m off now “to stick fxxxing pins in my eyes”.

    JR

  22. PS

    And Mr Mosby, I have minus zero time for self-important, egotistical, humourless, precious and mind-blowingly boorish writers who think the world owes their pitiful sense of uniqueness a living.

    Your crusade of petty Ruck hating has been going on for nearly two years now, so do go away and do something useful with your empty life.

    You do nothing but add a new dimension to the words, inflated tedium.

    JR

  23. uglyfatbloke says:

    Madasafish….The Edinburgh tram disaster was n’t a product of devolution, but of a particularly useless bunch of councillors who thought that tearing up the streets and damaging a really excellent bus system was a good idea – it made them all feel important. In a rare outbreak of common sense the minority SNP administration at Holyrood wanted to abandon it, but the tories, glib dumbs and , I’m afraid , Labour MSPs forced it back on to the agenda just to spike the gntas’ guns and poured money in to rescue the project. The end result is not a tram system, it’s a single line that goes from the middle of town to the airport. has n’t even cost a billion quid(yet) to make it harder to get across town from north to south, so I suppose that’s a success and the trams will win a prize.

  24. stevemosby says:

    Julian –

    Thank you. “An inadequate but noisy little tadpole”. My house has been full of wonder this morning as a result of this. For example, I wonder what sound the average tadpole makes, and what volume would constitute noisy? As a child, we had two ponds in the garden, and I would often watch the life-cycle of the frogs there: from spawn to tadpole to tiny frog to full-grown creature. I remember most of those stages, especially the earlier ones, as being relatively silent – but this is years ago now. I also wonder what inadequacy means to a tadpole? That it has a short tail? That it swims at an odd angle? That it perhaps senses the frog it will grow into will achieve none of the successes of its brothers and sisters, such as copying the croaks of others or being banned from its local Spar? I wonder.

    More to the point, I still wonder whether you really wasted taxpayers’ money on an FOI request when the information you quote was actually available on the website. But I wondered this before, and suspect I will have to continue.

  25. To Steve Mosby,

    Unlike you, I have better things to do than contemplate a childhood tadpole fetish.

    Still, takes all sorts I suppose.

    I repeat, do go away.

    JR

    PS And what was I saying about boorish writers? Not to mention inflated tedium?

  26. “And Mr Mosby, I have minus zero time for self-important, egotistical, humourless, precious and mind-blowingly boorish writers who think the world owes their pitiful sense of uniqueness a living.”

    It’s a good job that doesn’t apply to Steve, then. I’d say he was a better writer than I am.

  27. Gillian Brightmore says:

    To all you fine gentlemen:

    I find it extremely worrying that the above comments, all from men of course except one by myself, fails to address issues that I ,as a person like Julian born in Wales,and surely anyone with an interest in Welsh, ‘literature’ would wish to be addressed .
    I am saddened to this discussion descend to a level of character assassination , and of name calling ; schoolboy bullying tactics in fact.In fact these were the tactics used by PARTHIAN’s Richard Davies when he and his henchmen disrupted the talk Mr.Ruck gave in Chapter when he attempted to open up such a debate ,but was shouted down. Welsh democracy : has it reached Wales yet one wonders?
    In my humble opinion this says all one needs to say about the level of informed debate, or for that matter, ‘culture’ in our contemporary Welsh society; political as well as cultural I might add, gentlemen.

  28. stevemosby says:

    Gillian –

    “I am saddened to this discussion descend to a level of character assassination , and of name calling”

    You mean Julian’s comment to me? Yes, I agree totally. Rarely have I ever been so hurt.

  29. John abell says:

    Gill, how drunk were you when you wrote the above comment? Julian, how many pink gins had you had when you ‘replied’ to Steve Mosby?

  30. alan jones says:

    Julian admit you submitted novels to parthian and seren and got turned down.
    Gilian admit you got a four grand grant and did jack with it. Pay it back…

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