Agenda item

Welsh Language Monitoring Report 2019/20 - Scrutiny of Performance.


Officer Alan Burkitt presented a verbal report on the Welsh Language in Monmouthshire. This is a legal requirement by the Welsh language Wales measure 2011, consisting of giving an overview of performance to the Welsh language Commissioner; we then receive a reply with the commissioner’s own assessment. The translation service is very busy; for that, many of the 176 Welsh language standards with which we have to comply consists of providing information, documentation, etc. Our service is excellent, run by Becky Davies, who allocates and records. Around 18 months ago, we calculated that we translate 1.6 million words per annum, which is considerably more than before the Welsh language standards were introduced. The take-up from staff is excellent – I very rarely see a document that has gone out without a Welsh translation. The website is fully bilingual.

Workforce planning is a requirement looking at what resources are available within departments, essentially an audit of who in those departments has Welsh language skills, from fluent down to learners. Something that Monmouthshire has done lately is that all vacancies are now ‘Welsh Language – Desirable’ – considering that we have 10,000 Welsh-speaking residents in Monmouthshire, there isn’t a job in which Welsh language skills are not desirable. The key issue is that frontline staff numbers, i.e. jobs advertised as ‘Welsh Language – Essential’, are low. This brings challenges. It is already hard to appoint to certain roles in Monmouthshire, particularly in Social Care, and we do not have a large turnover of staff. It is therefore difficult to build that critical resource. We have 34 fluent non-school based Welsh speaking staff out of approximately 2,000. There was a Quality Assurance Report meeting this week in which the commissioner identified that the number of frontline staff in some local authorities is poor. There are 34 fluent speakers in the council now, compared to 28 when I started. In 36 vacancies last year, only 1 was designated as ‘Welsh Language – Essential’.


We have received no official complaints, which is obviously positive. We have only ever had 1 complaint, against which we successfully challenged. There are some complaints, however – I often receive emails pointing me towards various issues, which we address immediately.

As well as recruitment, a big issue is that we aren’t proactive with the services we offer. If someone requests something, we then try to provide it, rather than offering things through the medium of Welsh in the first instance. The commissioner, as part of his report, conducts a ‘mystery shopper’ activity in which receptionists etc. are addressed in Welsh and if there isn’t an effective response, it is concluded that the organisation in lacking in its skills. This is something we need to look at seriously for a future review. The good news is that I think everything else in place here, including the enthusiasm and support of officers. Fortunately, the attitude in Monmouthshire is that if something needs to be done, it will be done properly; this is excellent, but we need to be more proactive.



Regarding recruitment, why is ‘Do not require Welsh’ written on some job adverts?

This option has always been on there. I reviewed these matters with HR, as there are a lot which say Welsh skills aren’t required. We agree that, in Wales, everyone has an ability in the language, no matter how small, and we have therefore moved away from writing this. There is now more focus on ‘Desirable’. Those with Welsh skills tend to be appointed not for that reason, with their proficiency in the language being discovered later.


How do we compare to other local authorities on the England/Wales border?


Powys has a substantial Welsh-speaking area, from Ystradgynlais to Machynlleth, but with fewer speakers the closer it gets to the border. There is still Welsh-medium education there, though. There are far more speakers in Caerphilly, while there are not many in Newport, and we probably have more speakers than Blaenau Gwent. We are probably on a par with Torfaen, and therefore low overall. We are missing something when it comes to getting the children coming out of Welsh-medium education: we should be telling them that if they have Welsh language skills, we want them here in Monmouthshire. It is an essential skill in cases such as, for instance, dementia patients who are struggling to communicate in English because they have reverted to Welsh. It is something of a chicken-and-egg scenario in terms of us offering Welsh and people asking for it.


The report mentions 10,000 Welsh speakers in Monmouthshire, approximately 10% of the population, while Welsh Government has the aspiration for 30% Welsh speakers by 2050. Is this goal achievable for Monmouthshire?


Welsh Government wants 1 million Welsh speakers by 2050, which is approximately one-third of the population. The census is the most accurate figure for speakers, but we haven’t had a census since 2011, based on 2010 statistics. At that time, it was 8500 speakers, 9.9% of Monmouthshire. That was one of only two places that had seen an increase since the previous census of 2001. It is a massive challenge for the county. The upcoming primary school will certainly help. The number of people learning through Adult Education Centres and Coleg Gwent is excellent. We offer our staff a comprehensive training package as well, with a take-up last year of around 70. This year it has been less because of Covid-19. We need to continue as we are, with an emphasis on promoting the language, and trying to get more Welsh speaking staff into our authority. Then, more people will use it and value it. Holding the Eisteddfod again will hopefully have helped. The demographic is not just about learners, as a lot of people move into this area from elsewhere in Wales, bringing their Welsh language skills with them, accounting for a lot of our numbers. Also, there are English people who have learned Welsh.


When the commissioner looks at Monmouthshire, do they take into account that we have a lot of Bristolians living here, which will affect the number of Welsh speakers in the county considerably?


This is a very good point. We have met with Aled Roberts, the new commissioner, who is from a border county himself, and therefore familiar with the challenges. Standards want everyone to reach the same level at the same time, which I have always felt isn’t plausible. Due to the point from which we are starting, we might never reach the level of other counties such as Ceredigion. I think the new commissioner appreciates that Monmouthshire, and the other SE Wales authorities, do a really good job with limited resources. I think he would need to factor Bristol in, but if those children are given a good Welsh language education then they have the same chance as anybody of speaking the language. I think the commissioner has a good grip on the demographic issues in Wales, and knows that we in Monmouthshire are doing our best. Where he might, and should, push us is on the Welsh language ‘essential’ i.e. increasing the number of speakers in our workforce: whether we give the thousands of children who have gone through Welsh language education the chance to come and work for our authority. This would be a valid criticism, along with how proactive we are in the services we offer.


Llanover used to be home to a number of Welsh speakers, do we know if it still is, and to what extent?


No, I know that Lady Llanover was a patron of the Welsh language but I don’t think there are many speakers there now. There used to be a Welsh school there. Our biggest numbers are around the Welsh schools: Abergavenny and the Caldicot area.


Chair’s Summary:

Councillor Easson raised the important matter of the Eisteddfod in promoting the Welsh language. Councillor Batrouni raised a valid point about the commissioner accounting for Monmouthshire’s location, and our influx of people from Bristol. He also noted Officer Burkitt’s fantastic work in promoting the Welsh language in Monmouthshire.

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