Posted: Sat 16th Sep 2023

Council Struggles to Recruit Welsh Speakers, says Chief Executive /
This article is old - Published: Saturday, Sep 16th, 2023

A COUNCIL is struggling to recruit Welsh speakers its chief executive has said.
At a meeting of Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council’s Corporate Performance and Overview scrutiny committee on Thursday, September 14, the challenges of trying to live up to the legal obligations that Welsh is treated the same as English was discussed by councillors.
A report showing a new policy to improve the use of Welsh within the council workforce was in front of councillors.
This follows a rap over the knuckles by Welsh Language Commissioner, Efa Gruffydd Jones that the council are failing to comply with legal standards set in the Welsh Language Measure 2011.
The initial failure had been about providing a Welsh language phone service.
Cllr Tommy Smith said:  “I understand that this is a work in progress, but how realistic is that we meet all these statutory obligations.”
Cllr Smith added that he had recently spoken to a constituent who highlighted the phone-line problem.
They had wanted to speak to someone at the council in Welsh, were put on hold, and when the call was eventually answered, it was in English.
Cllr Smith “When they said they wanted to speak to someone in Welsh they were told they would be put back on hold while finding someone to speak to.”
“It’s not a criticism it’s customer feedback.”
Interim chief executive Damian McCann said: “We have in the region of 20 to 30 staff who can speak fluent Welsh who are scattered across the council in different departments.
“What the call centre try and do is find someone who is available who can take that call in Welsh.
“The difficulty and challenge we have is that only seven per cent of our population speak Welsh.
“We have tried for a number of years to recruit Welsh speakers to the call centre but that is extremely difficult, and we haven’t been successful.”
“I’m sure that those who can speak bilingually will be able to find work which is much better paid than what we provide in our call centres.
“We are desperately struggling – meeting the standards has been a challenge for us and other Gwent authorities because of the amount of Welsh speakers we have in the area.”
He added that things were being done to increase the number of Welsh speakers starting with education and schools, but it would take a “decade or two” before Blaenau Gwent is in a stronger position to implement the standards.
Cllr Julie Holt, who is learning Welsh, said: “I’m glad this is being taken seriously.”
Committee chairwoman, Cllr Joanne Wilkins; “This is a statutory obligation, and this committee is looking for assurances that things are going in the right direction via the action plan, as there also a reputational issue for the council.
“We need those assurances; I think we’ll need a progress report on this as it’s really important.”
The Action Plan and Welsh at Work policy will go on to be discussed at a meeting of the Cabinet next month.
The point of the standards is to ensure that public bodies such as Blaenau Gwent council are complying with its legal duty to treat Welsh “no less favourably” than English. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

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