The Welsh Language Commissioner’s first ten months in office
Nearly ten months have passed since I was appointed as the new Welsh Language Commissioner and I’ve relished every opportunity to promote the Welsh language since taking up the post.
I started my professional career as a solicitor in north Wales followed by a period as a Council leader and a Member of the Welsh National Assembly, so the language commissioner role is a new and exciting challenge for me.
At the time the job was advertised, the previous Welsh Language Minister announced his intention to scrap the role and the job advert stated that the appointment might not be for the whole seven year term. Thankfully this is no longer the case which is a relief for colleagues and those passionate about ensuring the longevity of the Welsh language.
Changes to policies and processes
During my six week transition period, I worked alongside my predecessor Meri Huws. I was surprised at how prescriptive the Welsh Language Measure was in setting out the process which had to be followed when investigating a complaint.
I knew from my time as a solicitor that changes had been introduced in police investigations and in the courts to speed up the criminal investigation process and I wanted to see if similar changes could be introduced to our processes.
The changes made included using my discretion to decide which complaints need to be investigated fully and which can be resolved without opening a full investigation.
Resolving some complaints without the need for a full investigation has freed some of the complaint officers’ time. This has meant they can spend more time ensuring organisations we’ve investigated are making changes if we have found failings. There is now a clear understanding that further action will be taken if organisations do not comply with our enforcement actions.
Using our powers to protect the Welsh language
I also wanted to look at the powers the Commissioner has to investigate breaches in adhering to the Welsh Language Standards. In particular, government policy development can impact on the language. For example the removal of free transport to students who are over 16 can affect the number of students who choose to study Welsh.
The most interesting case I have looked at so far was an allegation that a company had interfered with the freedom of workers to speak Welsh with each other. The company had asked their workers to only communicate in English which is a breach of the 2011 Welsh Language Measure.
I will be looking for assurance from the Welsh Government that they will extend the Welsh Language Standards further as no new bodies have been placed under the standards for some time.
Looking ahead, I will continue to ensure that Welsh speaking citizens can use the language as much as possible in their everyday life, and that their right to speak Welsh is protected.