Agenda item

Welsh Language Annual Monitoring Report 2021-22 - To scrutinise the Council's performance in complying with Welsh Language Standards


Matthew Gatehouse presented the report and answered the members’ questions.




Is staff training open to Councillors? Are there plans to return to in-person training?


Yes, it is open to members – we want to help as many people as possible, things like lunchtime conversation classes. In September, we will probably introduce in-person opportunities, and are happy to fund courses elsewhere as well – the key thing is to get as many people speaking as possible.


What will be put in place to deal with the overspend now and for future years?


We have a legal duty to translate things, so we can’t cut corners. There is the responsibility to operate within the budget set by Council for this area, so some effort has been made to make up for the overspend. For example, our Welsh Language Officer retired in an election year, leading to a gap in salary being paid for a period of time. Overall, the budget area will come in under budget, as demonstrated in the next agenda item.


How is the tendering commission for translation services done? Is it up for review? Is Cardiff helping us, given our partnership arrangement? Do we do any in-house translation ourselves? Do other authorities share any translation services i.e., collaborating with those with greater provision?


We looked at the overall commission 2.5-3 years ago – we do so regularly to ensure that our arrangements are cost-effective. We don’t have in-house translation but use a stable of 6-7 translators around Wales. Our intelligence is that the rates that we are charged are very competitive, compared to the alternatives. We looked at another authority providing our translation service, but it would have been £30-40k more expensive per year. We also asked Procurement colleagues whether there was value in going out to the market; given the size of the contract and the amount of potential savings, they felt that the contracts were not going to yield sufficient value to go out to the market. But we will keep it under constant review.


We considered bringing the service in-house partly because of the technology now available, but many of the individual businesses use software/learning tools, which enable them to keep their costs down. We don’t do much in-house but there are occasional things like proofreading. For the most part though, translators can turn things around within the hour when it’s urgent.


What’s the total number of staff in each service area – does it include those who haven’t started learning?


We don’t have those numbers to hand, but they can be given later, and included in future reports to make them more useful to members.


How much of the stated improvement in the last year is staff moving up in their fluency, and how much is recruitment of new staff?


Existing staff have gained new qualifications, but a big improvement has been in the recruitment of external staff. The way technology allows us to work means that we are recruiting people from north and west Wales – people don’t necessarily need to live locally. Another aspect is trying to target recruitment; for example, with home care vacancies, the Welsh Language Officer went on Radio Cymru to encourage Welsh speakers to apply. But that remains a challenge, and we are not yet where we want to be with recruitment. Because not as many have taken up courses in recent years we haven’t seen the gains we would like. Key to this is advertising more jobs as ‘Welsh Essential’, particularly in frontline positions.


Has anything been explored further to understand the difficulty in recruitment and retention? Is it just geographical, or is there a perception of us not taking the language seriously? Is salary a factor?


It’s not a unique challenge to Monmouthshire, which we have fed back to the Commissioner, with whom we have a very good relationship. We simply don’t have huge numbers of Welsh speakers in this part of Wales. Many of the speakers come into higher level professional positions – many are high achievers and not necessarily then in frontline services. There are huge challenges in Home Care anyway, and many workers commute in from outside areas – particularly in Monmouthshire, given the house prices. Something we haven’t done yet is go into Welsh language schools, to things like Careers evenings, to try to develop people from a much earlier stage. Also, growing our Welsh activity on LinkedIn and Careers websites to show that the language is encouraged here and that we have aspirations to grow its use. We are determined to try a range of tactics to make us a more attractive employer to Welsh speakers.


If there is a request for care provision in the medium of Welsh, can we deliver it?


Yes. We have Welsh Language Care Assistants, but don’t have the numbers to hand. In a worst-case scenario where we were struggling, we would pay a market premium to bring someone in to meet a specific care need.


Are we speaking to other authorities regarding best practices?


We are part of the Welsh Language Officer’s network, and we engage through the Welsh Local Government Association. We seek to learn from best practice. We are a smaller organisation than some others, which means we need to use resources effectively. But there are areas where organisations look to us e.g., about our translation services because our approach is very good. We do so for organisations like Citizen’s Advice, too, as we can do so much more cost-effectively for them than anyone else could.



What in-house promotion is there for staff training?


There is, through things like Sharepoint (our Intranet site): we have a Welsh language page there, with courses published on Talent Lab. The fact that we don’t have enough people doing those courses suggests that we would benefit from doing more and continuing to push them through things like the Digital Cwtch and Schmae Day. The ideas and enthusiasm that our new Welsh Language Officer has mean that there will be a big step up in promotion and activities over the coming months.


Can the importance of attracting people to the authority be linked with the wider problem of recruiting staff to certain areas? To what extent is the requirement expressed in recruitment a deterrent to some excellent potential employees coming and working in these key roles, given the shared border with England?


There is no easy answer to the general problem of recruiting staff. We can benefit in many ways as the gateway to Wales because we might find that Welsh speakers with jobs in Bristol and the West of England choose to stay living here and commute out. We have some really active conversation groups, and we work to support them to try to ensure that people who want to use Welsh, and are considering moving here for work, recognise that it is a healthy place for the language. We have tried to capitalise on the legacy of the Eisteddfod held in 2016 in Abergavenny, which gave the language a considerable boost in the county. But there are significant recruitment challenges that are not unique to our Welsh speakers.


Can we be more proactive with staff and councillors by potentially having a word or phrase of the day in Welsh when they first log on to their system each morning?


There might be limitations on popups etc. as we’ve tried things like that in other areas, but we will check with the digital team about what is feasible. There will be other things we can do, such as promoting apps that remind users each day to complete a learning task e.g. Duolingo.


Chair’s Summary:


Thank you for this comprehensive report. The committee concluded that the council needs to continue its efforts to recruit more Welsh speaking staff in frontline services, such as social care, acknowledging that recruitment in this sector is proving challenging nationally. The committee requested that further information on the numbers of Welsh speaking staff in individual service areas be emailed to the committee following the meeting.


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