A Senedd committee has warned that cuts in funding to the Welsh language due to the covid-19 pandemic could see skilled jobs disappear.
The Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee has told of the “devastating” impact of coronavirus and has called on the Welsh Government to put the language at the heart of its plans to grow the economy.
It found the cancellation of major events such as the National Eisteddfod, and cuts in funding to support Welsh language provision, could see valuable, highly skilled jobs disappear in Wales.
Members of the Committee were told three-quarters of Urdd staff have been furloughed and staff numbers may even halve. Two-thirds of Mentrau Iaith’s 300 staff are also furloughed.
Betsan Moses, from National Eisteddfod, told the Committee: “We did have contracts worth £1.9 million out at the time, and we had to negotiate with suppliers in order to shift those 2,000 jobs are partly reliant or totally reliant on the Eisteddfod for their income, so that disappeared.”
Before the UK Government extended the Jobs Retention Scheme to March 2021, Lowri Jones from Mentrau Iaith told the Committee: “The period after October will be very difficult if the furlough programme comes to an end as expected, in terms of maintaining those necessary services for parents, through the medium of Welsh, who are seeking to return to the workplace or are combining working from home with childcare.
“And, of course, the great value is that those jobs are Welsh-medium jobs within particular sectors, and that we do want to see Welsh-medium workplaces increasing rather than disappearing.”
According to the committee, one positive aspect during the pandemic was a move to online Welsh language events. It also said there has been a spike in the number of people wanting to learn Welsh via the internet, including from overseas.
The National Centre for Learning Welsh told the Committee that almost 8,000 people have registered for online taster courses since March, which is more than in the three previous years combined.
But the Welsh Government cut the centre’s funding by £1.6 million because it was unable to provide face-to-face classes and was saving money as a result.
The Committee says it believes the reduction should only be temporary, and that its budget should be reinstated in full as soon as possible.
Acting Chair of the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee, Helen Mary Jones MS, said: “The Coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact on families, communities and businesses across the globe and it goes without saying the priorities are to first, get the virus under control, before then rebuilding our shattered economy.
“We believe supporting and promoting the Welsh language is a key part of that recovery which is why it should be clearly laid out in the Welsh Government’s plans.
“We applaud the hard work and ingenuity of individuals and organisations for the virtual events they’ve held and the online classes they’ve organised to continue to support Cymraeg in these times.
“We want to see funding restored to these organisations so they can continue their work. This must not be a step back at a time we should be pushing forwards.
“The spike in sign-ups for taster courses is certainly welcome, and we believe there are opportunities the Welsh Government must capitalise on as part of its Cymraeg 2050 plans.”
The Committee’s recommendations include:
- The Welsh Government should ensure that short term reallocations of Welsh Language funding, due to the pandemic, do not result in longer term funding allocations which could detract from achieving the aims of Cymraeg 2050. The Welsh Government should reinstate the budget allocations for supporting and promoting the Welsh language in full, as soon as possible.
- The Welsh Government should ensure jobs that support and promote the Welsh language across Wales are central to its economic recovery plan.
- The next Cymraeg 2050: Welsh language strategy action plan should take full account of the changes in learning opportunities now available. It will need to consider the ways in which online learning and in-person lessons can be blended to best suit learners, and the level of funding needed to ensure that the growth in online learning can be sustained.
The Committee’s findings will be debated by the Senedd on 16 December.