Moving forward – in the right direction for the Welsh language?

05 November 2014

Article written by Rhys Iorwerth, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Blog-Rhys-engIn February 2012, the Welsh Government published a brand new strategy in an attempt to increase the number of people who speak and use the Welsh language. This strategy – A living language: a language for living – was to cover the next five years and replaced the Iaith Pawb strategy that had been in place since 2003.

Before the end of 2012, however, the first results of the 2011 Census had been published. These showed that the percentage of people who could speak Welsh in Wales had fallen from 20.8% in 2001 to 19% in 2011.

The Living language: a language for living strategy was only a few months old but it was clear that the Welsh Government felt that it needed to respond to the Census figures. It did so by organising what it called ‘Y Gynhadledd Fawr’ (‘the Big Conversation’) in July 2013. The aim of this event was ‘to find practical ideas to increase the use of the Welsh language and see it thriving in Wales’.

As well as Y Gynhadledd Fawr, several reviews and task and finish groups commissioned by the Welsh Government in this area have published their reports over the past two years. They include:

On 6 August 2014, the above culminated in the publication of the Moving Forward policy document. This is in essence an extension to the A living language: a language for living strategy. The aim of Moving Forward is to map out the way in which the Welsh Government delivers its policies for the Welsh language over the next three years, focusing on four key themes:

  • The need to strengthen the links between the economy and the Welsh language;
  • The need for better strategic planning for the Welsh language;
  • The use of the Welsh language in the community;
  • Changing linguistic behaviour.

This will result in various investments, including:

  • Up to £400,000 on projects that support businesses using the Welsh language;
  • A fund of £1.25 million for ‘centres and learning spaces’ that promote the use of the language (a further £1 million has just been announced to this end in 2015-16);
  • An additional £1.2 million to strengthen the Welsh language in the community over the next two years, including £750,000 to the Mentrau Iaith (Welsh language community enterprises);
  • An annual £250,000 fund until 2015-2016 to support technological developments.

Welsh Government campaigns are also underway (such as the ‘do the little things in Welsh’ campaign) to try and change linguistic behaviour.

However, it has become clear that much of the above does not constitute new funding, and that the Welsh Government has decided to reprioritise and cut funding in other areas within the budget for the Welsh language in order to focus on Moving Forward.

For instance, the £1.2 million to strengthen the language in the community has been secured by significantly reducing the budget for the Welsh for Adults programme. The Welsh Language Commissioner’s budget will be cut by 8% in 2015-16 (after reducing by 10% in 2014-15), while notable reductions have also been made to the Welsh in education budget.

On 23 October 2014, the Assembly’s Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee scrutinised the Welsh Government’s draft budget (2015-16) for the Welsh language. During that meeting, the First Minister acknowledged that it was ‘clear from the figures’ that there had been a decrease in the budget for the Welsh language in general.

In evidence submitted on the draft budget, Cymdeithas yr Iaith accuses the Welsh Government of ‘ignoring its own consultation’ in this respect, bearing in mind that a key and vital theme to emerge from Y Gynhadledd Fawr was need to increase investment in the Welsh language to safeguard its future. Cymdeithas yr Iaith is also very critical of what it describes as ‘serious underinvestment’ in the Welsh language in the Welsh Government’s mainstream budgets. It further accuses the Government of lacking ‘a sound financial strategy’ for the language and of making ‘hasty’ decisions in this respect.

A related question, of course, is the extent to which the Welsh Government can justify the reprioritisation that has taken place as a result of Moving Forward. The First Minister defended his decisions before the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee by claiming that efforts must be centred on young people and on ensuring that the next generation of people speak the language in our communities. Since that meeting on 23 October, the Committee has written to the First Minister with its views on this.

That letter draws particular attention to comments made by the Welsh Language Commissioner to the Committee later that day, which is that any strategic, budgetary or policy decisions relating to the language must be based on robust evidence and a clear understanding of the implications of those decisions.

The Committee concluded that it ‘would have liked to have received more detailed information about the evidence’ used by the Welsh Government in reprioritising its budgets for the Welsh language. The Committee has also asked for more details about the exact outcomes the Government expects this reprioritisation to lead to.

The Committee’s letter discusses numerous other issues that arose during the 23 October meeting, including expenditure on the Welsh language in mainstream budgets; budget impact assessments; the Welsh Language Commissioner’s budget; the budget for Welsh in education; and the Planning (Wales) Bill.

As well as the change of direction discussed above, further developments are expected in March 2015 as the first set of Standards comes into effect under the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011 (see this blogpost for more details). Whether this activity will lead to any corresponding increase in the number of those who speak Welsh is another matter, of course.