Ministers speak with forked tongue in Welsh

Joshua Parry finds a contradiction between the Government’s aim of promoting the language and what it does in practice

First Minster Carwyn Jones has failed to promote the use of the Welsh language within the Welsh Government. Following the ‘national conversation’ on the Language last year, he stated his Government would lead by example in its use and its promotion.

To date there has been precious little delivery on the commitment. Their flagship ‘apprenticeship programme’ is a case in point. Recently the Welsh Government said that an increase in civil servants in Wales was due to the recruitment of an additional 150 apprentices, claimed to be a magnificent employment opportunity for young Welsh people between the ages of 16 – 24.

However, under figures obtained from the Welsh Government only two apprentices – that is, 1.45 per cent – completed any part of their NVQ modules in Welsh in the last five years. This has serious implications for Carwyn Jones’s Live in Wales: Learn in Welsh? campaign, If so few Welsh Government apprentices are be taught through the the Welsh language, then how will parents be persuaded of the benefits of having their children taught in Welsh-medium schools?

Furthermore, only 13.8 per cent of those participating in the ‘apprenticeship’ programme in the last five years (between 2008 and 2013) were Welsh speakers.  Even more worrying was only six apprentices were placed in jobs where the Welsh language was used extensively.

All this gives the lie to the the myth that the Welsh Government are providing cushy jobs for young Welsh speakers straight out of school. To the contrary, the Welsh Government lacks a commitment to providing enough opportunities for young people to use Welsh in the workplace after mainstream education.

Here was an opportunity for the government to show that they were taking the Welsh language seriously by employing Welsh speaking apprentices, making the language essential for everyday use. Instead we have an apprenticeship programme which has failed to deliver the government’s commitment to see the language thrive and opportunities for its use after mainstream education increase.

Another weakness is the very low number of bespoke training courses delivered by Eliesha Cymru, the Welsh Government’s training arm, through the medium of Welsh.  The table below shows that in 2010-11 and 2011-12, only 16 and 11 delegates attended courses delivered through Welsh, just two courses in both years.


Number of courses delivered in Welsh

No of Delegates

Welsh language delivery as a percentage of overall delivery of courses

















The low number of training courses delivered through the language to Welsh Government staff are revealing in a number of ways. First, it suggests there is a need for new legal standards for the use of Welsh by public and some private bodies if the government does not look at its own practices. The proposed standards are meant to promote the Welsh language. However, in practice it turns out that the Welsh Government itself is unable to train sufficient numbers of its own staff to speak Welsh.

Can we blame NHS Direct Wales for having a substandard Welsh language option in which call handlers cannot speak Welsh or are not confident in answering queries when Carwyn Jones’s government does not provide sufficient opportunities for its staff to practice their Welsh speaking skills? If less than 27 members of staff out of 5,000 attend training courses in the Welsh language in two years, can we expect them to answer calls from members of the public/ converse confidently in the language?

Second, efforts to encourage positive Welsh language behaviours amongst staff are being undermined. As many have not been trained or not used to talking with fellow colleagues in Welsh. This is strengthened again by the lack of training opportunities where the Welsh language is used. In addition, the lack of a consistent message from the Welsh Government of what staff can expect in respect of the Welsh language use undermines its promotion.

Of course, it needs to be acknowledged that there was an improvement in 2012-13, when Eliesha Cymru increased the number of courses delivered in Welsh from two in the previous year to sixteen. But this still leaves the question why the number of courses delivered in Welsh fell so steadily after 2009-10.

Carwyn Jones himself has not set an example in his use of Welsh in government. An FOI request made by Cymdeithas y Iaith found that out of 128 e-mails he sent between 1 and 8September 2013 none were in Welsh. Nonetheless, speaking in the Assembly that month, the First Minister said that his government needed to develop opportunities for people to use Welsh socially and professionally, advocating that everyone should have five conversations a day in Welsh.

There are serious questions about the Welsh Government’s desire to develop Welsh language education provision. Funding for a new Welsh medium primary school in Grangetown was made available to Cardiff Council by the Welsh Government. But after the council reneged on their promise to establish a Welsh medium school, the Welsh Government’s silence has been deafening.   Parents and campaigners should not be having to battle hurdle after hurdle for each new Welsh medium school.

It is the same in Gwent, where funding for a second Welsh language secondary school is available. However, the ongoing wrangling between Torfaen, Monmouth and Newport councils has meant delays in creating a new school. It is yet to be seen whether the Welsh Government’s requirement upon local authorities to produce and publish a three-year Welsh in Education Strategic Plan will have the desired effect.

An overall policy vision by the Welsh Government would assist local government in planning Welsh language services, and promote more cross-cutting working and a more co-ordinated style of delivering Welsh language education services.

There is also the question of whether the Welsh Government can adequately influence, protect or cater for the needs of people that speak Welsh in non-devolved policy areas. Take the example of prisons. The Welsh Government is not doing enough to guarantee the Ministry of Justice takes Welsh speaking prisoners seriously. We can see this by how seriously the Ministry of Justice collates data on the needs of Welsh language prisoners.  A recent Freedom of Information request discovered that it does not know how many or which prison staff can converse in the Welsh language in Welsh prisons. As a result, they cannot assess whether prisoners are receiving the right support.

Even more revealing was a question posed to Justice Minister Chris Grayling on the number of Welsh speakers in prisons. He replied that the existing system (NOMIS), to record the first language of prisoners, was inadequate because it was not mandatory. He said that requiring all prisons to assemble data on Welsh language speakers would be too costly during a time of austerity. Consequently, one of the arguments made for siting a new prison in North Wales to cater for Welsh language speakers will be hard to gauge if there are no relevant figures in place to measure its success.

In its A Living Language: a language for living strategy, the Welsg Government admits it is not entirely sure the numbers of staff that speak Welsh across the Welsh Government. How can they ensure that they are meeting the needs of Welsh language speakers, if they are so slow to implement measuring indicators for the strategy?

Taken together, all this suggests that the Welsh Government is not laying the foundations for the Welsh language to develop. There is a contradiction  between the rhetoric of the Welsh Government in its declared aim of increasing the number of Welsh speakers and what it actually provides to those Welsh speaking members of staff in its government.

Joshua Parry is a student at University of Bath

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