State Services to be Provided in Welsh by March 2016 – Employment Opportunities for Welsh Speakers Set to Surge – Historic Action Taken by Welsh Language Commissioner

In February of last year Transceltic reported on the significance of action taken by Welsh Language Commissioner Meri Huws to enforce the provisions of the “Welsh Language (Wales) Measure – 2011” as it applies to the private sector. Acting on complaints filed under the 2011 statute, Huws launched an investigation against a major Insurance Company, based in England and owned by a French conglomerate, for not providing full customer service in Celtic at its branch operations in Wales.  The legislation includes the provision that companies doing business in Wales must provide the same services in Welsh as they do in English.

In her latest move, the Language Commissioner last month took aim at the public sector. In a decisive display of the powers contained in the Language Commissioners brief, Huws has ruled that government services provided across the public sector must be offered in Welsh on the same footing as English.  The impacted state agencies have been given six months to draft and implement standards required to be met by March 2016.  Huws is quoted in multiple news accounts as follows: “This is the first time I have used my powers under the Welsh Language Measure by giving notice to the first round of organisations to comply with Welsh language standards.”

The role of the Welsh Language Commissioner is defined on the Commissioner's web page as follows: "The principal aim of the Welsh Language Commissioner, an independent body established by the Welsh Language measure of 2011, is to promote and facilitate use of the Welsh language.  This will entail raising awareness of the official status of the Welsh language in Wales and by imposing standards on organisations. This in turn will lead to the establishment of rights for Welsh speakers."

Do not underestimate the impact of these actions on the viability of the Welsh language.  Rigorous enforcement of the 2011 legislation has profound implications for the long term health of the Celtic tongue of Wales. It would force private companies and state agencies to ensure availability of Welsh speaking staff to provide service to customers choosing to receive these services in Welsh.  This in turn would enhance the economic benefit of Welsh proficiency as more jobs would require Welsh language skills, thus giving advantage to Welsh speakers in the market place.  In the final analysis it is economic relevance that is the foundation of a vibrant healthy language.

On assuming her post in 2012, Huws stated: “I will be a voice for the Welsh Language, acting on behalf of Welsh speakers. That is my promise.  As I prepare to undertake this work, my vision is of Wales where the Welsh language is central to public life, where Welsh speakers have the confidence to use Welsh and trust in the law to right any injustice they may suffer for using the Welsh language."  Huws has lived up to her words. 

The long term impact may have just as much significance on the Cornish language. Closely related to Welsh and sharing approximately 65% of its vocabulary, both languages are of the Brythonic branch of the Celtic tongue (Welsh, Breton and Cornish) versus that of the Goidelic (Irish, Scottish and Manx).  Given the breathtaking strides of the Welsh language under the guiding hand of Commissioner Huws, it is undeniable that the Cornish tongue will be carried forward by the surge in the renaissance of the Celtic tongue of Southwest Britain thus strengthening the identity of the Cornish Nation.

In response to the latest moves by the Language Commissioner, Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (Welsh Language Society) spokesperson Manon Elin stated:  “Hundreds of thousands of people are being deprived of Welsh language services every day - on the trains and buses and by phone and energy companies. These are services which impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people every day.”


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