Wednesday 16 April 2014

Council Meeting: The Welsh Language

The main item on the agenda at yesterday's meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council was the report and recommendations of the Census Working Group on the Welsh Language

The report (available here in English and here in Welsh) contains 70 recommendations, some with far-reaching and radical consequences. It took almost a year to produce, considered a wide range of different evidence, and it is fair to say that the final result took even the most hard-bitten cynics by surprise.

Cllr Cefin Campbell (Llanfihangel Aberbythych, Plaid) who chaired the group made it clear from the outset that he did not want the language to become a political football, and he succeeded in building consensus across the various political groups on the council to back a plan which represents the best and probably last hope of turning the tide against the language in Carmarthenshire.

The result was that the council showed that whatever the political differences, the Welsh language can be a bridge to bring people together. Whether you speak Welsh or not, the language is a defining part of what it means to be Welsh, and there were notable contributions to the debate from Winston Lemon and Siân Caiach, neither of whom can speak Welsh.

Two of the most important parts of the report deal with education and the internal administration of the council itself.

The aim of the report, which was adopted by the council, is to extend Welsh-medium education so that eventually every child in the county is given the chance to become bilingual. Cefin Campbell emphasised that an essential part of this process would be a marketing to campaign to explain the benefits of bilingualism to parents, and the process will be subject to consultation.

An important aspect of the report is that it recognises that the teaching of Welsh as a second language does not work. This was also the conclusion of a report commissioned by the Welsh Government (here) which came out back in 2012.

Siân Caiach said that her daughter had achieved an A* in Welsh as a second language but was unable to speak Welsh. Children were merely being taught how to pass an exam.

A second long-term aim of the report is to make Welsh the working language of the council, as is already the case in Gwynedd.

Some departments within the council already have high proportions of Welsh speakers, and the vision is for transition to take place over time, with parts of the council achieving the change sooner rather than later.

One of the key insights of the report is that while there has been growth in the numbers of children able to speak Welsh in the county, the numbers drop sharply as people move into their 20s and 30s as young people leave Carmarthenshire and Wales to go and find work.

The lack of well-paid jobs for young people is, of course, not just damaging to the Welsh language but also has a huge impact on the social fabric of the county.

As the largest employer in Carmarthenshire, the council has all too often resorted to importing middle and senior managers as local young people head in the opposite direction.

Jobs are advertised stipulating that an ability to communicate in Welsh is essential, only for that condition to be swept aside by a get-out clause which says that successful applicants will be sent on a course to learn the language.

As is all too evident, this requirement has not been taken seriously, and the bar has been set so low that we have ended up with senior officers who by no stretch of the imagination are capable of expressing themselves in Welsh.

At one recent council meeting councillors were treated to a Powerpoint presentation from someone with a heavy London accent whose Welsh consisted of being able to say "Bohre da porb" (Bore da pawb), while the Chief Executive has failed to learn the language despite promising to do so when he was appointed back in 2001.

That it can be done and done well was demonstrated yesterday by Chris Burns, the jovial Assistant Chief Executive, who delivered a brief Powerpoint presentation in confident and clear Welsh.

Speaker after speaker welcomed the report and noted the spirit of cooperation across the floor which had brought about the report, but just as in a Brothers Grimm story there were some bad fairies lurking in the wings.

Meryl Gravell was worried that the council might send out a message to investors that the council was no longer open for business, and that making Welsh the working language of the council would mean that we could no longer recruit the best people (possibly a reference to Mark James).

Pam Palmer was also worried about the staff. Would not being able to speak Welsh mean that avenues to promotion were blocked? As for the brain drain of young people from the county, surely the parents were to blame.

Meryl's contribution seemed to bear out what many have suspected for a long time - that she has very little confidence in the ability of Carmarthenshire or the rest of Wales to produce talented young people capable of running a council department.

There are quite a number of smaller countries than Wales. Do Iceland (population 320,000), Estonia (1.3 million), Latvia (2 million) or Luxembourg (520,000) recruit local authority managers from outside their borders?

If you want to be a civil servant in the Basque Country (population 2.2 million), you have to pass tough language exams to qualify.

Strangely Meryl's contribution received a nervous flutter of applause from the Labour benches.

But let's end on a positive note.

One of the most remarkable and encouraging contributions came from council leader Kevin Madge. Kevin has barely uttered a single word in Welsh in the council chamber, but yesterday he broke out into fluent and natural Welsh and sounded a hundred times better than he does when speaking English.

He also set an example which others should follow.

The First Minister was watching what was happening in Carmarthenshire with interest, he said, and he hoped to invite Carwyn down to see for himself. Kevin Madge noted that the changes outlined in the report would be challenging and would need additional support from the Welsh Government.

Da iawn Kev.

As the meeting drew to a close Cneifiwr emerged from the dank recesses of County Hall, blinking in the spring sunshine. Parked outside the door was a large news transit van covered in colouful pictures and the logo "Visit Carmarthenshire". Sadly not a word of Welsh to be seen.


Anonymous said...

Good news. And a guarded 'well done' to Kev.

I know we are talking about Carms but Ceredigion need to move in this direction too. Or or they? I live in Ceredigion/Carms border. I haven't heard anything.

You talk of Sian Caiach. I listend to he speak and was surprised to hear her accent. I'm just interested to know her background. Her name suggests she has Welsh links but brought up elsewhere. Is that the case? I have a lot of time for her. Just interested.

Anonymous said...

as a labour member this is how I interprt how this came about:

callum and Kevin recognise the importance of the welsh language in the Aman Valley, and they picked supporters of Welsh to be on the census group, and have managed to presuade their group that even if they don't like some of the policies they need to back their leader and candidate on an issue important to them.

the independants have been dragged along kicking and screaming knowing that Labour and Plaid have the numbers to push it through if needed. Plaid and Labour need to work together more, if anything thats what the independants are worried about!

Anonymous said...

So Syr Gar is to go the way of Gwynedd and Ynys Mon with all posts for Welsh speakers only. So the majority of adults living within the county won't be eligible to apply for a council position...and this is going to keep young people within the county how exactly?

By my reckoning, taking adults over 25 and under 65 this new edict will disadvantage 63% of the population at a minimum but realistically many more since FLUENT Welsh will be the main job requirement. See:-

"Ms Thomas also claimed that some board members were unhappy with Ms Ings's standard of Welsh, which was one of the reasons for her departure."

Bring on the Linguistic Cleansing!

Is this Cefin Cambell the same owner of Sbectrwm who came up with the legendary and sinister "Twin Dolls" scenario for frightening kids into choosing WM secondary schools? Surely not!

Anonymous said...

I have lived in Wales all of my life and in Carmarthen for the past 4o years or so and it has always been a huge regret that I didn't actually learn the language.

My wife is Welsh speaking and my two grown up children could converse in Welsh if they chose to.

I worked in a public sector organisation and I always felt my career was held back by my lack of Welsh even though I knew it wasn't essential for the roles that I applied for.

I love the fact that we have a national language and that our culture is rich and the welsh language plays a big part in that However I would definitely stop short of forcing it on people by making an ability to speak welsh being a condition of employment.

Most people in Wales don't speak Welsh and lets face it most people in Carmarthenshire don't speak Welsh so forcing the issue will cause annoyance.

I think the language needs to be nurtured but not force fed.

Anonymous said...

There is enough talent in Wales to fill these top jobs without going further afield.

Anonymous said...

This is excellent news if it means that costs for the council will be lower. Wylva in Anglesey employs a lot of Welsh speakers for menial tasks. The Welsh speakers get to speak their language, Wyva get the much needed labour at a knock-down rate. Everyone wins.

On the other hand, if costs are going to increase because we seek to attract/retain only the very best of Welsh speaking candidates then I think we are heading in the wrong direction. Competition is essential to keep costs down, competition at all levels. Without such, council taxes will just end up rising more and more each year.

Most language initiatives tend to backfire, and in a spectacular fashion. I suspect we have another one here.

Anonymous said...

Any more of this nonsense and we'll end up with two councils, one to satisfy the demands of Welsh speakers, the other for English speakers.

In fact there's nothing to stop this happening now. We just need a vote to confirm electoral wishes.

Oh brilliant, Wales follows Ukraine and splits into many!

Anonymous said...

"Enough talent to fill these jobs in Wales...."

Well perhaps so, but is there enough specialist fluent Welsh speaking talent?? And, once you start to advertise for "Fluent Welsh speaking essential" candidates how do you know what talent is available in the remaining 90% of Welsh adults who you have ruled out.

Frankly failing to make Welsh a "political football" is the same as abdicating all responsibility to the majority of people living in the county. Carmarthenshire CC is doing just what the Assembly is doing; ignoring the majority and being driven by a narrow linguistic minority with decided political aims. Failure to stand up to and question the objectives of people who make a living from the Welsh langauge (Cefin Cambell) is an abdication of responsibility and a betrayal of voters.
If you don't agree with the concensus who do you vote for??

Anonymous said...

it is the same Cefin Campbell !1.05 Anon - very supportive of english knot policies

Anonymous said...

We need a positive attitude to sort this out, and we need to unite for the benefit of the Welsh Language and to retain it.
Some negative attitude within the comments above. It's not the Welsh against the English, it's just trying to retain our heritage.
I am proud to be a Welsh speaker and we need to find a way to promote and encourage people to learn.

Anonymous said...

Is it me or is the atmosphere better in Council meetings lately?

Anonymous said...

"It's not the Welsh against the English, it's just trying to retain our heritage"

Let's not be silly about this anon 14.23; of course it's the Welsh against the English, it's there in the document blaming incomers from England and asking for a housing policy restricted to just enough houses for "local People".

And lets not show our naivete about "Saving the language" it's about saving jobs on the Council for Welsh speakers not non-Welsh speakers and about Cefin Cambell trotting out half truths and outright deceptions which will lead to none other than Cefin Cambell getting lots of extra work from Meri Huws, the Welsh in Education Department and sundry Councils.

And, above all, it's about making sure that the demographic profile of the county doesn't change so far that they don't elect Plaid Councillors, AMs and MPs.

Just remember all you non-Welsh speaking parents; when all the schools are changing "in the longer term" to become WM schools there will be none of YOUR CHILDREN getting local teaching jobs in the short term.

If you tolerate this then your children and grand children will form the next diaspora.

Anonymous said...

Sorry but what I have read here about the Welsh Language is crass, I live near a Welsh Language school, all the local pupils have to speak welsh on the school premises, yet when their out of the school premises they speak English as a choice, my son attends the local primary school, a category A school, he is fluent Welsh speaker, which is great, but and it's a big but, there has been such a concentration of welsh since the start of his education, his English grammar is appalling, I have had serious concerns with this ! So much money has been spent on the Welsh language, yet all we hear is the continuous decline, better we have people embracing the welsh language rather than having it forced on to them. What will be the impact on investment in the County be with such a policy ! I think Plaid, Labour and other parties better be weary of the up and coming elections, many people are getting disillusioned with the fact that that the political parties are not consulting or listening to the mass majority.

Signed off by a Welsh speaker

Cneifiwr said...

How utterly depressing reading through some of these comments.

The meeting yesterday was genuinely constructive and encouraging and was about tilting - just a little bit - the scales which are so heavily weighted against the underdog.

Normally I post items on the Welsh language in Welsh precisely because I know that posting in English will invite a tide of bigotry, urban myths and bile. A lesson learned the hard way.

What I will do however is post something in the next week or so to back up some of the arguments i have used with real-life examples.

To the person complaining about their child's English, it might be helpful to know that "when their out" should be written "when they're out".

Anonymous said...

And the person who doesn't know the difference between "their" and "they're" doesn't know much about punctuation either! Perhaps he/she was educated through the medium of Welsh? (Just to be clear - that last comment was tongue in cheek!)

You're right, Cyneifiwr, it's thoroughly depressing reading some of the comments here.

Anonymous said...

So typical Cneifiwr to pick up on someone's bad spelling as if that somehow negated what he had to say. There is no "Bigotry" in what I have said I have dared to pose a view point that you object to and posted links and information that the Council's task force certainly didn't want in the public domain because it hurts that pretty myth about the motives of Plaid in the Council.

In what way are Welsh speakers the "Underdogs" in Wales. Special preference for employment in the public sector when there is no evidence of significant demand for Welsh language services. WM schools purpose built at the drop of a hat. Parental preference surveys in every county where Welsh speakers form small minorities to see if they want a WM school within 2 miles of their homes but NO PARENTAL SURVEY IN YNYS MON, GWYNEDD, CEREDIGION or SYR GAR to see if maybe a small minority of non-Welsh speaking parents want an EM school for their kids.
No cneifiwr, what we have witnessed with this cosy concensus is not a triumph for the underdog it's the devious machinations of a nasty and bullying elite taking advantage of the simple minded.

Efrogwr said...

Hear, hear, Cneifiwr. If the Basques can do it, so can we. The decision on the internal language of administration is hugely important. My main concern though - reinforced to an extend by your report and the lack of a timetable - is whether Labour are really serious about this.

Anonymous said...

"I think the language needs to be nurtured but not force fed."

I agree. English has been forced....for far too long. Welsh is inique to this part of the globe and must be encouraged and supported.

A Welsh learner.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I are English incomers - we came to university in Wales, loved it, and stayed. Our children both went to WM schools and are fluent. We support the Welsh language because it's a vital part, but only a part, of Welsh identity.

My daughter hated the anti-English bigotry of some kids (and teachers) in Welsh schools, but, as is clear from comments on this blog, bigotry works both ways. Far too many chips on shoulders.

Anyway, getting back to the point, it should be a requirement for SENIOR Council officers in Carmarthenshire to speak fluent Welsh. Anyone embarking on a career in local government in Wales will have ample opportunity to learn the language, so by the time they are eligible for senior posts, they will be able to communicate with the sizeable Welsh-speaking population in their preferred, native language, and to demonstrate their commitment to protecting and enhancing the language. Such a policy would exclude English-speaking monoglots, but is that such a high price to pay?

m1books said...

An English speaker, I have been employed for the last 20 years in a college with a strong bilingual ethos. The staff are approx. 60/40 Welsh/English speakers. The senior managers are English speakers achieving their posts through experience and merit. The Welsh speaking staff mostly would choose not to write or discuss issues formally through welsh. Even though the students have been educated in WM primary and secondary schools they also choose to do written work and exams in English although most will communicate informally in welsh. This is a choice that they have made in their continuing education and socialising. I have always received respect and appreciation for the work I do and the importance of using incidental welsh. However it is clear that many students have significant spelling and writing failings in both languages despite their education, and consequently a large proportion of vital skills training and education time is now taken up with literacy and basic skills lessons.
My point is that the language enthusiasts have lost huge numbers of young people. No amount of policy making or enforced educational strategy, which hinders the legal choice of parents, will address this. The focus should be on heritage, culture, pride, the importance of identity and mutual respect, and not on economic advantage through employment demanding linguistic ability.

Ken Haylock said...

'English speaking monoglots' (Or polyglots in languages other than Welsh) are the majority of the Carmarthenshire electorate. One has to ask what the interest in pushing compulsory Welsh on people actually is. What does it achieve, apart from more future votes for PC, and more public sector jobs for PC voters now? All at the expense of reduced private sector opportunities for all through reduced outside investment, and reduced opportunities for the youngsters educated in a system that fails them and turns them out unfit to do anything except get onto the shortlist for job vacancies in the Welsh public sector. Or to go and dig ditches in England while they study remedial English to try to learn the language well enough to work in the real world.

Not everybody in Carmarthenshire can work for the council...

Anonymous said...

Anon 10.45 - your comment has got to be the sanest and most sensible by far. Thank you for bringing some common sense into this somewhat hectic and bad-tempered debate.

Anonymous said...

"it should be a requirement for SENIOR Council officers in Carmarthenshire to speak fluent Welsh."

Oh dear Anon have got a lot to learn.

Firstly the scenario you envisage; a career local government worker who learns Welsh whilst on the job elsewhere.

The Elsewhere has to be in Wales so automatically you rule out all Local Government workers from the rest of the UK. This is of course the objective of the committee above.

When you consider it further you realise that Local Government workers in much of Wales will have had no experience of the Welsh language, Blaenau Gwent, Monmouthshire, Merthyr, Flint, much of Powys, Wrexham, in fact in most of Wales.

Now you may have learned to speak Welsh but much more is required for a senior LG officer in an all Welsh council. He must read and write sophisticated documents as well as being a comfortable Welsh speaker.

What will happen in Carmarthenshire is what happens in jobs go to first language Welsh speakers who have Welsh speaking parents. They all come from the Fro Cymraeg and all recruit people who they know or (preferably) are related to.

Enjoy the future as the children of first language English speakers find that speaking Welsh is not enough to get a local job and they migrate to where merit counts for something.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10.45

Hear hear. Agree with every word.
Excellent comment. I am finding that the non-welsh speaking welsh are far more negative about the language than most of the english in-comers. There has to be serious steps taken to promote the language. It's not just about welsh speakers in the public sector, it needs to change across the board if we are going to retain the language.

Anonymous said...

Basically it is discrimination to deny the majority of english speakers an opportunity to have a career in local government. It is also very short sighted as the talent pool is cut by three quarters. I am surprised nobody has tested this in court. To have enough welsh speakers within the organisation obviously important but to try and make it 100% and to 'force' all school children to have welsh as a first language is a disaster waiting to happen. It is only time before the majority of the population rise up against this and all progress to keep the welsh language alive will be lost which would be a shame. This is an ideological bridge too far.

Anonymous said...

A few thoughts on an Easter theme. Olive branches were waved on all side at Tuesday's council meeting, but by Good Friday it's obvious there are those who would rejoice in seeing our language crucified. Not to worry. Welsh has been written off by countless Judases over the centuries, but has miraculously survived and thrived - despite their malicious intentions.

Anonymous said...

Never had a problem,if I know somebody understands
Welsh even it I don't know them I will speak Welsh to
Them,in a queue in a shop,bus stop etc.Make them speak
it,if you have it use it,English should look after itself,we hear it every day,but still learning new words.I like speaking both Languages.

Anonymous said...

You wouldn't think we were living in Wales by some of the comments above.

Anonymous said...

" Olive branches were waved on all side at Tuesday's council meeting"

You are mistaking white flags for olive branches....and there must have been a good few Judas kisses planted as so many Carmarthenshire people and their children were betrayed.

Anonymous said...

"Basically it is discrimination to deny the majority of English speakers an opportunity to have a career in local government."

That's only the start of it Anon 11.31. In Gwynedd the LA, which like all LAs subcontracts with millions of your money,demands that subcontractors act in accordance with Gwynedd's Welsh language policy. The charities who deliver many services and are paid by the LA have to provide their service in Welsh but must also communicate within the Council offices in Welsh. If they don't they don't get a contract renewed. Gwynedd dictates the linguistic nature of all its sub-contractors.

You and your kids are looking at a much wider employment exclusion zone than you think.

Anonymous said...

Anon 14.52

Easy answer if that's what you think. Get cracking and learn Welsh!

Anonymous said...

You aren't listening are you Anon 21.41?

In Gwynedd and Carmarthenshire there is a high number of completely fluent and literate Welsh speakers who have Welsh as a first language. They haven't had to dedicate any time to learning Welsh beyond GCSE.

For a non first language speaker they would need to take A level and a degree in Welsh to reach the same level.....many years dedicated to perfecting a skill.

Having dedicated that amount of time to thorough language acquisition they then need a marketable skill beyond the language (which is just a communication skill). So a further degree in planning perhaps.

For any adult the time expected to move from beginner to oral fluency with lower level writing skills (any language) is seven years taking two lessons a week.

What happens in Gwynedd and Ynys Mon is that only first language speakers get the jobs (why look further?) and second language Welsh speakers are left to fill low level posts...or leave.

The evidence is (A study by the WLB) that it is the Welsh speakers who stay in Wales and non Welsh speakers and second language Welsh speakers that go to England.

This is of course the objective of Plaid's push for "Jobs for Welsh speakers only" in Carmarthenshire. Plaid voters stay...Labour voters are forced out. Gerrymandering by language.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7.25

Sorry but I don't agree.
It is a known fact that young children learn welsh very quickly. Start learning welsh as a second language very early in life, as in school entry, and it is a piece of cake. Seen it done so many times and it is easy. Far more difficult to pick it up in adulthood.

Anonymous said...

You are right Anon 20.15, Welsh is much easier to learn for young children and the low success rate of adults learning Welsh (less than 1% take lessons and those attaining fluency number a few hunderd each year) is well documented. This is my point as you will see from the above; to make the Council offices "Welsh speaking only" blocks over 60% of adults in the county from working there and blocks 90% of all Welsh adults.
To say that children find Welsh easy to learn hides another fact....not ALL children are successful and even in WM primary schools pupils are, on average, more adept in English than Welsh.

This is why pupils fail to move from being assessed in Welsh first language in year 6 to taking GCSE through the medium of Welsh or even taking GCSE in Welsh L1.

The net result is that children learning Welsh in school do not form part of the fluent Welsh speaking population 5 years after leaving school.

Why block the employment chances of our own local children just because it would be good for Plaid's election outlook?

Anonymous said...

Anon 7.42

I doubt very much than anyone has suggested making Council offices "Welsh speaking only" but you have to agree that with the decline in welsh speakers in the County, something has to be done. There needs to be more Welsh speakers in top jobs within the Council.

As regards to Welsh medium schools, I think the standards achieved by Ysgol Gyfun Bro Myrddin in Carmarthen speaks volumes.

Anonymous said...

There's nothing particularly special about Ysgol Bro Myrddin...except perhaps that it is the Secondary school with the lowest percentage of pupils on Free school Meals in all of Wales, 3.2%. Penweddig is second lowest with 3.6% and of course all Welsh medium schools have lower percentages of deprived pupils than EM schools on average. The fewer the pupils from a deprived background the higher the schools attainment generally (but not inevitably).

If you look at pupils gaining 5 Level2 GCSEs including Maths and English you will see that Bro Myrddyn performs below expectations. In fact there are 14 English Medium schools with a higher percentage of pupils from a deprived background that score better on the same measure.

Surely Cefin Cambell explained this. No?

Anonymous said...

Anon 15.36

Why Maths and English? Why not Maths and Welsh?

Anonymous said...

Of course Anon 15.36 if you make Welsh first language at GCSE the yardstick for measuring school excellence then you are right; every Welsh Medium school is better than every English medium school but it would be a pointless measure don't you think?

You can only compare like with like so I compared on core subjects taught in both groups of schools on the measure used in England and Northern Ireland.

I can do the same comparison separately if you like.

Maths-17 EM secondary schools have higher scores.
English-15 EM schools have higher scores.
Welsh-13 WM schools have higher scores but no EM schools have higher scores.

Remember Bro Myrddin has the lowest percentage of deprived pupils of any secondary school in Wales; it should be head and shoulders better than the other isn't.