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6 News PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY


COUNCIL has denied claims that it is seeking to circumvent one of the Welsh Language Standards it is obliged to observe, ahead of the standard coming into force. The language standards include


placing a duty on bodies to make it clear that they welcome correspondence with the public in Welsh and giving the language priority on bilingual signs. Many bodies have complained


about the cost and complexity of the regulations.


Pembrokeshire County Council


is in the process of sending a letter to all households in the county asking if they would prefer correspondence in Welsh or English, and the letter states that if households do not respond, correspondence from the council will be in English. Cymdeithas yr Iaith Cymraeg has


claimed that the move is contrary to one of Welsh Language Standards which will come into force in March 2017, which provides that Pembrokeshire County Council will be expected to send correspondence in Welsh and English to residents if they do not know their language preference.


COUNCIL ‘WILL BE IN BREACH’


In a letter to the council, Manon


Elin, chair of Cymdeithas’ language rights group, said: “We are concerned that the council has made a successful attempt to delay Standard 5’s coming into force, with the intention of undermining its impact when it does come into force in March 2017. By assuming that all those who have not responded to letters prefer correspondence in English, the council is attempting to reduce the effect of Standard 5, when it comes into force.


Jon Coles Deputy Editor


jon.coles@herald.email “When it does so, the council


WILL be in breach of the Standard as it will still be in the process of corresponding with residents, with a letter noting that English will be the language of correspondence if there is no answer.” The letter also notes that


Cymdeithas has received complaints from residents who have already received the letter from the council.


CONCERNS One of the concerns is the


suggestion that some people, including learners and some who are less confident of their Welsh, want to receive bilingual correspondence; or to receive written correspondence and phone calls in different languages. The


letter does not suggest that this would be possible.


Cymdeithas’ letter further states:


“As is clear from the bulk letter the council is sending to all households in Pembrokeshire, the council is under the impression that it can rely on residents’ response – or lack of response – to predict that their preferred language for written communications is the same as their preferred language when talking on the phone. “The letter was unambiguous in


this regard: ‘Communication means letters, emails and phone calls’.” The letter ends by asking Pembrokeshire County Council not to change the way they contact residents, but to continue sending bilingual correspondence: “We have already suggested that the council should hold back from contacting more households in Pembrokeshire, in order to reconsider their plans, we re-iterate that request. “The Standards should be a basis


for the council’s vision and plans for the Welsh language across the county, they are not the maximum to be aspired to. There are some promising developments in terms of Welsh medium education, but the language needs to permeate every aspect of life in the county.”


COUNCIL CLAIMS ‘PROACTIVE APPROACH’


A council spokesperson told


The Herald: “A proactive corporate approach is being taken to the development of a database to record customer contact communication preference. “The information will be recorded


and used to inform the language in which we communicate with the customer in the future. “Users of services are asked to


state their preferred language which ensures opportunity for the use of


the Welsh language. In accordance with Standard 2, where a reply is not received, we will default the language preference to English. “The bilingual letter forwarded/


to be forwarded to each household requests confirmation of the communication preference of householders in Pembrokeshire aged 16 or over. Every member of the household is invited to provide their language preference. “It is our intention to produce


forms bilingually; however, where a language preference has been recorded, forms will be sent out in whichever of the two languages has been chosen by the recipient. The letter does clarify that the council may on occasion have to send out information bilingually. “This council is complying with the


requirements of the Welsh Language Standards (No.1) Regulations 2015.” Standard 5 reads as follows: ‘If


you don’t know whether a person wishes to receive correspondence from you in Welsh, when you correspond with that person you must provide a Welsh language version of the correspondence’.


STANDARDS ARE ‘VERY POOR LEGISLATION’


The row over the Welsh Language


Standards regime in Pembrokeshire comes as the Welsh Government has announced a review of what some public bodies and critics have claimed of too onerous standards that look to penalise public bodies for non- compliance instead of supporting public bodies in meeting them. Meirion Prys Jones, the former


head of the Welsh Language Board, claimed that ministers were ‘obsessed with hitting organisations hard’ and had made ‘very poor legislation’. Mr Jones said: “It was supposed to


be simple [and] clear so that everyone can understand the new system - it


THE HERALD FRIDAY JANUARY 13 2017


Follow us on Twitter @pembsherald


Council denies undermining Language Standards


doesn’t work. “The idea of standards was you’d


have one standard or a few standards that would suit all of Wales,” he said, adding that to have many more ‘is completely ridiculous’. Mr Jones said Welsh ministers


‘became obsessed with the idea of regulation, the idea that you need to hit organisations hard who didn’t provide enough services in Welsh and they set about putting a system in place’.


MINISTER: ‘STANDARDS ARE TOO COMPLICATED’


Speaking on S4C’s Newyddion


Nawr, Alun Davies, Minster for the Welsh Language, conceded that the standards needed to be reviewed. “I hope in the next few months to


issue a white paper which will review the issue of Welsh Language Standards as part of a wider review of Welsh language policy. When I look at the standards, I can


see they are having an impact within public bodies that deliver services in Welsh but I also see complications. “They can be too complicated at


times, both the process of designing and implementing.”


WELCOME FOR REVIEW The review was welcomed by


Welsh Language Commissioner Meri Huws, who took over the role of promoting the language from the Welsh Language Board in 2012. The Welsh Language Commission


has suffered swingeing cuts to its budget since 2013, while still trying to deliver the Welsh Government’s standards. Ms Huws said the existing


legislation was cumbersome and focused on process rather than outcomes. She added: “It is fair to say that the


cuts we have faced over the last three years have not helped in terms of our work in promoting the language.” Suzy Davies AM, Welsh Conservative Shadow Secretary for Welsh, said: “While noble in its aim, the Welsh Language Standards are far too bureaucratic and a balance needs to be found in cutting red tape while maintaining the rights which Welsh speakers want to exercise. “Any change in the law must


also be future proofed to anticipate the effects of the one million Welsh speakers policy which, we hope, will see an increasing weight of expectation for bilingual service provision in our public services. “I welcome the review, which I


feel is a good opportunity to see how existing legislation can be improved to get more people of varying proficiency to use the language more often and more confidently.”


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