Investigations by the Welsh Language Commissioner are at their lowest ever level according to figures obtained by Cymdeithas yr Iaith.
The figures show that since being appointed Welsh Language Commissioner earlier this year, Aled Roberts investigated only 26% of complaints received during his first month in post – a much lower figure than any month in the last three years.
The previous Commissioner, Meri Huws, investigated 75% of the complaints received during April 2018. In the first two months in the post, the previous Liberal Democrat Assembly Member refused to investigate over half the complaints received, which is far higher than any corresponding period whilst Meri Huws was in charge.
Correspondence between the Commissioner and the Minister for the Welsh Language that has recently come to light, reveals that the Commissioner has changed his policy on dealing with complaints following pressure from the Government.
In response to the decline in investigations Tamsin Davies from Cymdeithas yr Iaith said: “The concern that we hear from many of our members is that they don’t feel that the complaints procedure, since Mr Roberts has been appointed, always gives priority to the interests of Welsh speakers. These statistics show there are grounds for their concerns. Refusing to open an investigation into so many complaints will weaken our language rights if this trend continues. If complaints are not investigated, it will be impossible to enforce a change of practice or policy within an institution. By behaving in such a way, there is a danger, therefore, that these bodies will get the message that it is okay for them to ignore the law. There is also a danger that the public will lose faith in the Commissioner to deal with their complaints seriously.
“It is appalling that the Government has put pressure on the Commissioner to take an approach that favours organisations and companies. It is totally unacceptable also that, as a result of this, the office of the Commissioner has conceded and adopted a new policy to deal with complaints – the office should be completely independent of the Government. If not, who will protect the Welsh language and those who speak it?”
The Commissioner’s office said that between April and July 2019 they received 43 complaints from the public where there was a suspicion that an organisation was breaching one or more of their duties to use the Welsh language. He opened a statutory investigation into 21 (48%) of them. The remaining 22 complaints were grievances where the organisations concerned had confirmed that they had taken steps to resolve the matter or had committed to do so, and had provided adequate assurance that the matter was not likely to recur.
Aled Roberts said: “Each statutory investigation takes approximately six months to complete. Of course, there are cases where a full investigation is the most appropriate route to take, and use powers to enforce improvement. I have followed this route with almost half of the cases I am able to investigate.
“Historically, a full investigation was opened when dealing with nearly every complaint where there was a suspicion of failure. Full investigations were taking place even when organisations were already taking steps to rectify matters and put arrangements in place to ensure that they did not happen again.”