Friday 13 April 2012

Welsh blamed for town's economic problems

As regular readers will know, this blog occasionally strays across the border into Ceredigion where a bitter dispute has been simmering for months now over plans to turn the primary school in Cardigan, Ysgol Gynradd Aberteifi, into a Welsh medium school.

This week, the story made it to the front page of the Tivyside Advertiser (here).

Under the plan the school would become Welsh medium only by 2019 in order to enable children now in the English stream to complete their schooling through English.

The Tivyside story paints a picture of hardline Welsh-language activists driving through a change which will undermine the town's economic competitiveness.

The facts, on the other hand, are simple, and a little local knowledge helps to cast a rather different light on the affair.

The local authority notes that there has been a very significant drop in the number of children in the English stream in recent years, and currently there are just 2 pupils out of 30 in the Year One English stream.

The school and the local authority argue that it would be better to put the resources it is having to devote to maintaining the small English stream to use for the benefit of the school as a whole.

There has been vocal opposition to this from some parents, and now the Chamber of Commerce has weighed in, led by its chairman Paul Oakley. Mr Oakley runs a small business a couple of miles outside the town selling and repairing outboard engines for small boats. He is not originally from the area, and does not have children of school age.

The Chamber of Commerce has had problems of its own, with a split among the membership just over a year (story here). The Christmas lights fiasco referred to was straight out of an episode of Dad's Army. Mr Oakley's Chamber of Commerce raised a large amount of money from local businesses to buy new Christmas lights for the town. Unfortunately when volunteers started to try to put them up, it was discovered that the new lights were too heavy for the brackets on buildings in the High Street, and Cardigan's High Street had no Christmas lights at all in 2010.

That, and other rumblings of discontent, led to a split in the membership.

So Mr Oakley speaks on behalf of only a part of this market town's businesses.

Cardigan has a long-term problem with unemployment. The town is geographically remote with poor transport links. It does not have any significant industry, and there are no large employers outside the public sector. In recent years a lot of effort and investment have gone into restoring and renovating the town centre, which is now very attractive.

Currently the Cadwgan trust is finalising plans to restore the historic castle, and during the summer months the town is very busy with the tourist trade. All the signs are that tourism will steadily grow in importance.

While that has been going on, the town has also seen a large influx in recent years of families from deprived areas of cities in England, and Cardigan now has far more than its fair share of social problems, including drugs.

The result of this has been to expand the pool of unskilled labour and social deprivation in a town which already had serious structural weaknesses. How can that be blamed on the Welsh language?

The other myth which the Tivyside story perpetuates is that children in Welsh-medium schools somehow emerge with a weaker command of English. That is simply not true.

Cneifiwr's youngest son is 9 and is in the Welsh stream at a local school. He is now reading Harry Potter in English, and roughly half of his homework assignments are in English. Compared with the children in the English stream in his school, he is receiving a richer and more varied education.

Earlier this year a meeting was held in Cardigan under the auspices of the county council to review a wide range of activities and projects underway to ensure that the town has a bilingual future. There were presentations from Menter Iaith, Coleg Ceredigion and pupils from the town's secondary school, Ysgol Uwchradd Aberteifi.

Disappointingly, only two non-Welsh speakers showed up, and one of those was a local journalist, even though the council had laid on a translation service. Mr Oakley was nowhere to be seen.

Best of all was the presentation by the sixth formers who gave lively account of their efforts to promote the language in the school. One of their initiatives is a lunchtime club, or Clwb Amser Cinio.

CAC also sums up Mr Oakley's attack.


Nic said...

Yes, because letters to the local paper revealing an uninformed prejudice against the local language is the best way to promote local businesses.

Is there an up-to-date list of Chamber of Commerce members anywhere? Their website isn't much help (currently just scraping BBC Wales news feeds); the only list I can find is dated 2007, and includes people who have left to join the "Cardigan Traders".

Jac o' the North, said...

This story could come from anywhere in rural Wales today: those of a colonialist mindset dictating to the natives; housing associations shipping in problem families (and worse); low pay and lack of jobs.

After 13 years of something called devolution we Welsh are being turned into strangers in our own country, and castigated when we dare assert ourselves.

We - and our 'leaders' - have been too timid, too 'accommodating', for too long.

Cneifiwr said...

There is the rival Cardigan Traders Association, but it does not have a website.

Nic said...

Yes it does, although they also seem to be afraid of using Welsh in case it scares anyone away.

Anonymous said...

Byddai'n ddiddorol cael gwybod pwy ysgrifennodd yr erthygl 'na yn y Tivy-Side, gan fod Jackie Biggs (gohebydd y TS - @JackieNews ar y Twitter) hefyd ar fwrdd cyfarwyddwyr y Siambr Fasnach!

Anonymous said...

From a thread on Facebook, a response from the Tivy-side's editor to a letter of complaint about the article:

Dear Mr Jones

Thank you for your comments. The article has sparked a lot of reaction and comment in the town. We have written many stories about the school's plan to become Welsh medium including reports on presentations by the head teacher plus many favourable letters - see this week's Tivy-Side. The Chamber's reaction is simply a report on their concerns for local businesses. It is unfair to criticise Mr Oakley personally - he is just voicing the concerns of his 50 plus members.
I take issue with your claim that we have done our readers "a grave disservice" - we are simply reporting what's going on in the community.

Sue Lewis
Tivy-Side Advertiser