|Wrexham Council's efforts to bully the Language Commissioner into accepting their standards and rejecting others.|
I then wrote the following letter to the Leader exposing the council's little games:
Cllr Hugh Jones's press release, regurgitated without challenge by the Leader, "Welsh Language red tape too expensive" (Leader, July 17) is deserving of critical comment. Communicating with the public in the delivery of services is fundamental to the core business of the council; in fact all of the £227 million budget is used in some way with delivery of services. In order to deliver those services we have to communicate in a language whether it is English, Welsh or bilingually. How Cllr Jones succeeds in disentangling the £700,000 for Welsh is beyond me and does he therefore agree that by a simple process of elimination that it costs £226 million plus to deliver services in English? It just goes to show that his report and article are "utter tosh" and have the sole intention of undermining the role of the Language Commissioner.
He goes on to argue that Wrecsam Council shouldn't provide services in Welsh because of low take up of those services, forgetting of course that by providing inferior services in Welsh like Wrecsam do, so you are forcing customers to use English services. This is called "suppressing demand" by failing to provide an adequate service in Welsh.
Basically, Wrecsam have made no effort for years to improve on their Welsh language services and now the Commissioner and the law have caught up with them and they're now making excuses, whilst at the same time conveniently forgetting that they have known for over 3 years that this day would come. The Commissioner cannot be blamed for Wrecsam Council behaving like ostriches burying their heads in the sand.
The Leader eventually published a heavily edited and sanitised version of the above letter, but even that prompted Hugh Jones to write the following defensive response which doesn't answer the points raised in my letter.
Councillor Arfon Jones is wrong in a number of respects (Wrexham Leader 22/07/15) He knows that the truth is that, I do not and have never, argued that Wrexham should not provide services in Welsh, indeed it is the opposite. As a Council we go to significant lengths to support the Welsh Language and Culture. Similarly it is a distortion of the truth to say that “Wrexham has made no efforts for years to improve its Welsh Language services”. This is an unwarranted criticism of our Welsh Language Officer and her team. As a Council we encourage and support and pay for members of staff to attend Welsh Language Courses. In our support for the Stiwt over many years we have encouraged and enabled the provision of a Welsh Cultural Centre. Through our Library and Museum services we promote and encourage Welsh Language and Culture and we have a Welsh Language Scheme that has been approved and inspected by the former Welsh Language Board. At the same time we have increased the provision for Welsh Language in our schools.
It is equally a distortion of the truth to say that the “law have caught up with the local authority” we have not breached and do not intend to breach any law.
In terms of the Standards which the Welsh Language Commissioner is seeking to apply to Wrexham, we have accepted 134 of the 164, the problem lies in the cost of implementing the remaining 30, which has been estimated to be £700,000 each and every year. At a time when the Welsh Government is asking us to cut £45 million from our budget over the next three years, we have a clear choice, Jobs and Services or the Standards.
Cllr Jones avoids explaining which members of staff will lose their jobs, which services will be cut in order to pay for these 30 Standards.
The implementation of 134 standards will hopefully lead to an increase in the numbers using our services which is something that I welcome and encourage. Indeed the Council would adopt all 164 Standards if the Welsh Government provides the funding.
Cllr Jones I know is passionate about Equalities, we need to understand that we serve a Community where several languages are spoken, not only English and Welsh but also Polish and Portuguese for example all of which provide Wrexham with a broad and rich heritage. At a time when we have a policy of reshaping services and protecting the most vulnerable in our Community we have difficult choices to make, in doing so we will fulfil our responsibility to promote and enhance the Welsh language and Culture but we will do so in a way that does not damage our responsibilities to the whole of the County Borough.
The truth is that Wrexham Council provides the Welsh speaking public with an inferior service in Welsh and thereby suppressing the demand and forcing them to use services in English. There is no doubt that Wrexham Council are treating the Welsh language less favourably than English and the Council need to be commission a 'Mystery Shopper' exercise, but they won't because that will show up which argument is correct.