‘Weakness’ of Welsh language rights exposed as council delivers English-only newsletter to residents
Campaigners have condemned the weakness of language rights legislation in Wales after a council was lawfully able to distribute an eight-page newsletter to residents that contains not a word of Welsh.
Ironically, the newsletter produced by Blaenavon Town Council contained a glowing report of a concert given by the bilingual singer Bronwen Lewis, who packed out the local workmen’s hall in September.
Blaenavon is a town in Torfaen in south east Wales situated north of Pontypool. In 2000, Unesco made Blaenavon and its industrial landscape a World Heritage Site in recognition of the role the area played as the world’s major producer of iron and coal in the 19th century.
The town and surrounding areas have a range of heritage and leisure activities, including Big Pit National Coal Museum, where visitors can explore the workings of the former Blaenavon Colliery and mine.
The town council delivered 3,000 copies to residents, including Mihangel ap-Williams, a former director of the pro-independence group Yes Cymru.
He contacted Nation.Cymru to ask us whether the council was acting within the law by distributing the English-only publication.
We sought clarification from the Welsh Language Commissioner’s office, where a spokesman told us that the town council wasn’t breaking the law. While Wales’ 22 unitary local authorities have to make provision for Welsh speakers, that doesn’t apply to town and community councils. Some do so voluntarily, but others operate entirely in English and don’t provide any Welsh language service.
Mr ap-Williams said: “Having received the newsletter through the door and studying Welsh. I found it funny that there is no Welsh language content at all – even though there is a Welsh folk singer mentioned and the hall looks full in the photograph.”
Siân Howys, Chair of the Welsh Language Rights Group of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, the Welsh Language Society, is concerned that the Welsh Language Measure 2011’s failure to ensure that town and community councils function bilingually forms part of a broader pattern of the Measure’s deficiencies.
She told us:”It feels by now as if the frailties of the Welsh Language Measure are highlighted week after week. Only last Thursday, HSBC announced that it was bringing its Welsh Language Helpline to an end. In addition, A number of our members expect to face court cases simply because they wish to use Welsh in private car parks. The fact that there is no legal right for Welsh speakers to receive correspondence from town and community councils is yet another blow.
“The legislation that established rights for the people of Wales to use, see and hear Welsh is currently 12 years out of date, and is failing on every front. If it is not revised and strengthened, it is inevitable that Welsh will lose more ground and people’s rights fall further behind.”
Kevin Warren, the chief officer at Blaenavon Town Council, said: “Members of the council did consider whether the newsletter should be produced in both English and Welsh, but decided against doing so on the grounds of economy, efficiency and effectiveness.
“The council’s spending is scrutinised by the Wales Audit Office and members are aware that they have to spend money wisely. There is no legal obligation to translate documents under the Welsh Language Measure 2011 and members believe it would be difficult to justify, given that the proportion of Welsh speakers in the town is small.
“The council will continue to decide whether it is worth spending extra money for Welsh language content. Obviously there would be additional costs because of the translation and the need for larger newsletters. If members decided to publish in both languages in the future, the cost would have to be met by reallocating funds from elsewhere in the council’s budget.”
Extending language duties to town and community councils would be a decision for the Welsh Government, which so far has shown no inclination to do so.
Blaenavon forms part of Torfaen. In 2022 17.6% of Torfaen’s residents said they could speak Welsh.
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