I don’t ordinarily go in for this sort of article. But this story has relevance for two reasons. Firstly, it relates to Natural Resources Wales, which is a topic I’ve covered before. Secondly, there’s a juicy element of hypocrisy, which I like to root out wherever it rears its mendacious snout. It happened across my desk on St. David’s Day, too, and I think that the big man himself would be happy for me to raise this issue. So it’s thanks to GC for alerting me to this story and passing on the details.
Natural Resources Wales (NRW) is currently consulting on a Welsh Language Scheme. And someone I’ll call BL has made a number of assertions in her response to the consultation:
Assertion 1: The proposed Welsh Language Scheme discriminates against the English language.
Firstly, the paper states two guiding principles that I believe are unbalanced:
“• In Wales, the Welsh language should be treated no less favourably than the English language
• Persons in Wales should be able to live their lives through the medium of the Welsh language if they choose to do so”.
While I agree with both of these principles, it is clear that you have omitted the same principles that would balance Welsh with English. Principles such as: ‘In Wales, the English language should be treated no less favourably than the Welsh language’, or ‘Persons in Wales should be able to live their lives through the medium of the English language if they choose to do so’. Alternatively, ‘In Wales, the Welsh and English language should be treated equally’. Even though you are supposed to be treating them equally according to the Welsh Language Act (1993), this oversight clearly fails to establish equality of language, and it is obvious by these two principles that the Welsh language is being favoured and English discriminated against.
The clue’s in the title. This is a Welsh Language Scheme. Not an English Language Scheme. In fact, if BL wants to get really excited, she should pick a fight with the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011. Because that piece of legislation gave Welsh “official status in Wales”. But not English.
Assertion 2: Staff who are not bilingual would be “devalued” and “discriminated against” under the terms of the proposed scheme.
Secondly, your paper states that Welsh will be encouraged even for those not requiring it for their post:
“Where fluency in Welsh is not essential for a particular post, Natural Resources Wales will follow a proactive policy of encouraging staff to learn and use Welsh in order to promote a bilingual ethos throughout the organisation”.
It is clear again, that Welsh is being promoted even for staff that are not required to speak fluent Welsh for their job. While I can understand a bilingual ethos being desirable between post-holders that are required to speak Welsh in their work, staff should not be devalued when they do not require Welsh in their post and choose not to learn Welsh in their spare time. Otherwise, again, being able to live life through the medium of English would be discriminated against.
BL obviously feels that it is not desirable for use of Welsh to be promoted “even for staff that are not required to speak fluent Welsh for their job”. Whatever. But I can’t determine in which way staff would be “devalued” or “discriminated against” for not speaking Welsh. And BL doesn’t provide us with any evidence that that could happen – by design or default – through the proposed scheme.
Assertion 3: The scheme will discriminate against “English speaking Britons”.
Thirdly, the paper states that increasing numbers of Welsh speakers must be employed among senior staff:
“Natural Resources Wales will also seek to ensure an increasing proportion of Welsh speakers among its senior managers and team leaders, with the aim of enabling the public, other organisations and Natural Resources Wales staff to communicate with senior management and team leaders through the medium of Welsh or English according to their choice.”
While it is crucial for Welsh-speaking public and professionals to have the option of communicating in Welsh, with some jobs entailing Welsh fluency as essential criteria, it is not an equal language policy to be prioritizing ‘an increasing proportion’ of Welsh speakers. A more balanced approach would entail staff numbers that reflect the language demographic in Wales, with sufficient staff on hand to speak Welsh, rather than continually and exclusively increasing bilingual staff only. This would significantly reduce the pool of applicants and therefore has the potential to lessen the expertise or ability of the successful applicant to do a scientific / management job well. This approach will clearly discriminate against English speaking Britons, greatly reducing the choice of potential staff for posts at NRW, and make it harder for experts in the field to gain work in Wales.
Firstly I should say that all bilinguals speak English too. As do many people from all over the world who are permitted to work in Wales. But BL’s making a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of communication. Bilinguals are better equipped to work in Wales than monolinguals. Full stop. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons they get an 8-10% premium on their earnings. Because any time the media or some conference or meeting wants a comment they can do it in either language. And any time there’s a discussion to be had with people from any part of Wales whose preferred language is Welsh, the bilingual isn’t busily putting her conversation partner to an inconvenience like the monolingual.
BL thinks it’s ok to palm someone off on the Welsh language audience who isn’t an expert or hasn’t got the experience to discuss a matter (“sufficient staff on hand to speak Welsh”). But that approach erodes confidence in the ability of an organisation to do a decent job because you end up with non-specialists and media officers communicating with the outside world. Effectively, a second-class service for the bilingual population.
Assertion 4: The scheme discriminates against non-bilingual graduates.
Lastly, the paper states that courses will become available for Welsh-speaking environmental graduates:
“It can be difficult to recruit suitably qualified Welsh speaking staff into some posts, particularly scientific posts. Natural Resources Wales will address this in several proactive ways by:-
• contributing to the AmNawdd scheme for sponsoring Welsh speaking students following environment-related courses in higher education, and providing work placements for the students taking part in the scheme
• playing a lead role in the Welsh Language Environmental Partnership, which draws together representatives from across the environmental, higher education and voluntary sectors
• providing trainee posts for Welsh speaking graduates to increase their opportunity to start a career in the environment.”
This policy would even make it harder for many Welsh graduates, as most Welsh graduates don’t speak Welsh. In order to treat the Welsh and English language equally, courses and trainee posts should be available to both Welsh and English speakers by merit of their career goals and attainments. To prioritise or favour Welsh-speaking graduates over English-speaking by ‘providing trainee posts for Welsh speaking graduates’ is to discriminate and to devalue academic and professional ability, passion and hard work. If work placements are available in the environment sector they should be available to English-speaking students as much as Welsh-speaking students, to avoid discrimination, and to establish language equality.
BL’s already accepted the business case for bilingual jobs: “While it is crucial for Welsh-speaking public and professionals to have the option of communicating in Welsh, with some jobs entailing Welsh fluency as essential criteria…”. And NRW have told us that “It can be difficult to recruit suitably qualified Welsh speaking staff into some posts, particularly scientific posts”. So for some jobs for which bilingualism is essential, recruitment is a problem. That seems to me to be a fair basis for providing a leg up to bilingual graduates. Say an organisation had a problem attracting staff with certain in-demand skills. It might provide a “market factor” pay bonus. I have it on reliable information that the Environment Agency does just this for certain jobs that it finds difficulty competing with the private sector for, like lawyers and accountants. It’s a similar situation with a different metric. If it’s difficult to recruit someone with essential skills, then an organisation needs to find a way to improve its chances of getting those skills. That’s what NRW appears to desire through this scheme.
BL finishes off by requesting to remain anonymous in the consultation process. Whooah! Did I just say anonymous? So how on earth did I get hold of BL’s submission?
It turns out that BL sent her submission round the houses, initially to 29 of her contacts, with the following message:
If you are interested in voicing your opinion on this I have pasted my email to them below so that you can get a quick idea of the some of the problems I can see with the policy. If you agree with my points, perhaps you would like to email a brief statement summarising, or your own interpretation. Even a short statement would be worthwhile… all you need to do is email to the following address… Please forward this to anyone who you think might be interested (BL’s emphasis)
And at least one of those contacts sent it to a distribution list for Marinet - a mailing list with hundreds and hundreds of people on it.
So we end up with a self-publicist chastising NRW for their Welsh language policy, while trying to hide behind the cloak of anonymity. BL, here’s a tip for you. If you want to remain anonymous, try keeping things to yourself.
So who is BL? And could it be that BL’s tried to get jobs in the environment sector and failed? Could it be that she’s been passed over for promotion because of a lack of skills?
And could it be that one of the skills she could acquire that might enhance her prospects of employment in Wales would be Welsh language competence?