Welsh language commissioner role to be scrapped

Posted 09 August 2017 | 0 Comments

The job of Welsh language commissioner is to be scrapped as ministers try to hit an ambitious target of one million Welsh speakers by 2050.

Ministers are to take over decisions on what language rules, or “standards”, apply to which organisations. Welsh language minister Alun Davies said he wanted to make the system as efficient as possible. But campaigners at Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg are concerned it will lead to a weakening of Welsh-speakers’ rights. Instead of a single figurehead, the Welsh Government wants to create a Welsh Language Commission to promote the language.

Like the current commissioner, the body would also be responsible for policing the system. The changes are the Welsh Government’s preferred options in proposals for new legislation outlined in a White Paper launched at the National Eisteddfod on Wednesday. Any shake-up would need to be approved by AMs before becoming law

Banks, supermarkets and other organisations in the private sector would not immediately face new rules, despite such suggestions earlier this year. “We are not proposing that the Welsh Government will imminently be imposing Standards on bodies which do not currently come within the Standards system,” the white paper said. “Given the current economic uncertainty following the decision to leave the EU, further pressures on private sector companies and inward investment would certainly carry a risk.”

Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg responded by claiming the proposals were aimed at “just making civil servants’ jobs easier”. Chairwoman Heledd Gwyndaf said if the Welsh language was to thrive it needed “to be normalised” and to have “equity” with English. But she said she believed a new body would not have the same clout as a commissioner, telling the BBC’s Good Morning Wales programme that having promotion and regulation in one body would result in a “clash of interests”. “It seems that our Welsh Labour Government are looking after big corporations and big companies… at the expense of the Welsh people,” she said.

Plaid Cymru chairman Alun Ffred Jones, a former minister with responsibility for the Welsh language, said it was simply “rearranging the deckchairs”. “The government has failed miserably to promote the language,” he added. Mr Jones called for better co-ordination in Welsh Government departments covering areas such as schools, education and planning to increase the use of Welsh. The changes to the commissioner’s role are likely to be amongst the most controversial. The current commissioner, Meri Huws, has been in post since the job was created in 2012. Earlier this week she launched an investigation into claims retailer Sports Direct had instructed staff to converse in English only.

Mr Davies said a consultation earlier this year indicated there was too much “bureaucracy” involved in the “standards” system, which sees individual organisations given bespoke official requirements to provide certain services in Welsh. “We want to refocus our efforts on promotion and make changes to the way the Welsh Language Standards system works to make sure it is as efficient and effective as possible in giving people rights to use Welsh,” he said. “I believe the Welsh Language Commission will be a powerhouse for achieving both these aims.”

Mr Davies launched the Welsh Government’s strategy to meet the target of one million Welsh speakers alongside First Minister Carwyn Jones and Wales football manager Chris Coleman in July.

The 2011 census had reported a drop in the number of Welsh speakers from 582,000 in 2001 to 562,000, about one in five of the population.

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