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Natural Resources Wales give 'sickeningly excessive' grants to RSPB, including to refurbish toilets

Some people within the Welsh government have proved extraordinarily generous friends of the RSPB and are happy, indeed keen, to give the already rich and powerful organisation a good deal of tax payers money.

[South Stack, Wales]

We have previously expressed surprise that they had given the organisation £12,000 to fill in an application form for HLF (Heritage Lottery Fund) money. But it is a free country and politicians can spend tax payers hard earned cash as they wish. We could have filled out the form for less, and so could most people reading this, but value for money is not a major issue where the conservation industry is concerned.

This thought about value for money was triggered by more news about gifts (grants as they are called in polite society) to RSPB on Anglesey. It relates to the RSPB's South Stack reserve. A famous beauty spot where generations have marvelled at the vertiginous cliffs, and in due season, the sea birds that come to them for the safety they give them from predation. Few predators without wings could get to even the outlying nests and return alive and the nesting sea birds are a spectacle that never fails to thrill.

When we heard that RSPB had received a grant for £3,353.90p, we had difficulty in seeing how they could spend even that tiny amount of taxpayers money on conserving the sea birds. After all they are there because of the cliffs and the sea, neither of which anyone has control over. Imagine our surprise when we discovered that the gift was to refurbish the toilets at their visitor centre. Perhaps not the highest priority for a guillemot, but you never know.

Next came the news that taxpayers had decided, via their elected representatives, or at least the civil servants, to give their friends in RSPB another, more substantial gift, £40,787.87p to be precise. No doubt the sea birds would be grateful that the visitor centre would have a car park fit for a gull to land in and that the catering facilities in the commercial element of the visitor centre would be refurbished and provided with new fixtures and fittings. A snip for 40K.

Finally, or we thought it was, was the news that RSPB had received another gift, a gift that entirely dwarfs the others. £189,069.69p. Surely this one will make the sea birds safer, won't it? Well, only the ones that use the car park and the cafe. It is said to be for rebuilding, professional fees, fixtures and fittings (again), catering refurbishment (again), the car park (again) and 'Plas Nico'.

Well that's great. RSPB is an enormous and rich organisation. It employs far more people than the Welsh environmental regulator, the cash strapped Natural Resources Wales (NRW). It turns over £140 million a year and last year made a profit of over £12 million. Despite this stunning wealth, the Welsh government, the same government that employs the under resourced NRW, gives it nearly a quarter of a million pounds to do up the toilets, car park and its commercial catering facilities at a site where it can largely control access to a famous Welsh beauty spot.

[Another extremely expensive golden lavatory. This one was not installed by the RSPB]

It is worth considering just how special this special treatment is. Consider for a moment what chance there would have been for any other business to even get permission to operate a car park and catering business in a place like this? In the very unlikely event of someone getting permission to operate such an enterprise in such a place, ask yourself what are the odds that they would get a gift of £233,211.46p from the Welsh government.

Just to be clear RSPB is a business. In fact it is a huge business. Its latest (2020) accounts show that its commercial trading income was £20,400,000. Although they did complain that, “Retail and catering sales were lower than the previous year due to a reduction in footfall and the temporary closure of our South Stack Outlet”.

When these figures were put to a local resident, they were met with disbelief: "When you see the economic struggles going on around the country it is sickening to see the RSPB gravy train continues. How can they spend that much on refurbishing a toilet?" He questioned whether the toilet was made out of gold.

These figures are made even more sickening to the average person when compared to the strength of the RSPB's financial position. It has total reserves of £227,400,000. That is nearly a quarter of a billion pounds. It had a total income of £146,914,000 and £1,005,000 of their profit came in the form of gifts from the Welsh Government and NRW. Why?

There can hardly be any other business in Wales, let alone Anglesey, that is in such a wonderful financial position. If RSPB can think of one, perhaps they will tell us. Equally there can hardly be any other business that, with a multimillion operating surplus and nearly a quarter of a billion pounds of reserves, gets close to a quarter of a million pounds from the Welsh tax-payer to do up the car park and buy new fixtures and fittings for the cafe.

[RSPB Chair Kevin Cox]

God only knows how this is value for money. The Welsh government says that value for money is calculated at the time the grant is given but has yet to explain how. That is frankly, not that surprising. If the rest of us did it that way we would get into an unholy mess. If you relied on the estimate, which is essentially what they claim, and pay no attention to what you are paying for actually looks like, you would spend your life wasting money on rubbish. But, of course, it is your money they are spending, not theirs, so what's the problem? It clearly isn't a problem because they have just done it again.

The Minister, Leslie Griffiths and the chairman of NRW have just given RSPB, this week, another £194,379 so they can safely re-open their reserves. That it's nature reserves, not its financial reserves. Heaven forbid that they should have to touch the quarter of a billion they are keeping for a rainy day, when the Welsh taxpayer is available via its friends in high places.

Oh, we nearly forgot. If you want to park your car at South Stack and wander about for a few hours enjoying the scenery, as your grandparents used to do for free, you had better be an RSPB member. If you are not an RSPB member, you will have to pay them £2.50 for the privilege. If you can prove you are a resident on Anglesey, they will sell you annual pass for £20. We should all be grateful for such a big hearted gesture.

It goes a long way to thanking the tax payer for giving their business over £230,000. After all who cares about value for money when you are spending other peoples.


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