Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Welsh Language Consultation.

Wrexham Council are undertaking a consultation regarding the use of the Welsh language which ends on the 16th January 2016. In the introduction it says:
The Council is undertaking this consultation in order to try and understand why there is so little interaction with the Council's services in Welsh and why the take up of services through the medium of Welsh is low and disappointing despite the Council providing opportunities, particularly online, for people to communicate in Welsh
The full consultation can be found here

One local resident was so incensed that he wrote the following letter to the council regarding its inadequacies of the survey:

I've filled in the on-line questionnaire, but have to say that in my opinion, it’s a poor and superficial survey and does little to explore residents’ underlying feelings regarding Welsh language issues. In particular, it’s very disappointing that there’s no room for comments – I tried to input some under ‘other’ in the final question, but it appeared to delete them when ‘next’ was clicked. Please accept this therefore as a fuller response.

Personally, I believe that to understand the lack of take-up for Welsh language services from the council, we have to look at the general picture of the status of welsh in the area, and the council’s role in that.

Just by way of background, I was born and brought up in Wrexham, the son of a Welsh-speaking mother but educated entirely in the medium of English. At the time, and from a practical point of view, there was no alternative and I was only able to learn Welsh (to a fairly good level of fluency) by my own efforts, and at my own expense, as an adult.

I actually learned more Welsh while living in Shropshire and Herefordshire in my twenties than I did in Wrexham.

When I grew up, not only was the provision of welsh language education inadequate, but the council’s literature, signage and so on (its ‘public face’) was also entirely English.

Of course, things have changed since then. (My two daughters went to Ysgol Plas Coch and Ysgol Morgan Llwyd, and are fluent). But the problem is that the improvements have only ever been at a pace, and to an extent, necessary to meet the bare limits of the council’s legal obligations.

If you leave out the National Eisteddfod’s two visits to the area, in fifty years I can’t ever recall seeing Wrexham Council ever doing anything over and above that.

On the other hand, there appears to be many occasions where it has adopted a negative approach towards the language, and the overall picture therefore is that it appears to have at best disinterest in the language, or at worst disdain for it.

At a minor level it shows itself at public events – for example, at the 2015 St. David’s Day parade where during the welcoming speeches (including one by a council representative) we had to wait until a full 6 minutes before a single word of welsh was spoken – not even a ‘croeso’ or ‘bore da’!

But at a more fundamental level, and far more worryingly, it shows itself in the approach to welsh medium education – the substantial opposition among councillors to the building of Ysgol Bro Aled, the recent issues where siblings have been split between schools due to capacity problems, and the apparent absence of planning for the future, or willingness to do anything until pressured.

Add to that the cutbacks to funding for Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin, the lack of support for ventures such as ‘Saith Seren’, the lack of any official follow-up initiatives to the 2011 National Eisteddfod, and the reluctance to implement the Welsh Language Standards (and the completely inaccurate cost figures that were quoted regarding these) and the only logical conclusion any reasonable person can come to is that the council not only has no goodwill toward the language, but that it sees it as a nuisance, and is actively opposed to it.

Having said all that, I would admit that I don’t of course see everything that the council does, but if the council is doing something positive to encourage use of the language in the area, I would suggest that it needs to give its PR department a sharp kick up the backside, as it’s hard to see any evidence of it.

So against this background, why would residents be encouraged to approach the council in welsh? The assumption, quite naturally, will be that it’s unwelcome, and though there will be a few who do it to make a statement or protest, the reality is that it’s not in most people’s nature to do that. So they take the easy route, and approach the council in the only language it appears to willingly, rather than grudgingly, support.

It’s encouraging that you’re undertaking this consultation but I really do hope that you look beyond the bare statistics it produces, question your residents a bit further, and also question the council and councillors’ culture and attitudes. And recognise that changing language use towards people’s first preferences won’t be an overnight exercise, but a long-term one that will need to successfully correct perceptions acquired over half a century.

Always assuming of course that you’re not just looking for an excuse to do the bare minimum again?

I couldn't sum up the definition of 'suppressed demand' any better than that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Or it could be that even Welsh speakers (12.9% in the 2011 census) would prefer to speak English.

One person writing a letter does not equate to great demand.