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‘Lose our learners and we lose our language’: Suzy Davies AM seeks updates on Welsh Government’s handling of generation of Welsh learners

A Welsh Conservative debate this afternoon will give the Assembly a chance to scrutinise the Government’s language pledge of 2016.

Concerns are expected to be raised that more could be done to reach the cross-party-backed goal of one million Welsh speakers by 2050.

Suzy Davies AM, Shadow Minister for Education and Welsh Language, will begin the discussion by acknowledging that there is support across the Chamber for the strategy to succeed, but that regular scrutiny is required from the Assembly.

The debate will also seek to boost the use of the Welsh language in small and medium-sized enterprises, and to do more to ensure that the application of standards does not inadvertently disadvantage the opportunities of experienced and committed Welsh language learners.

Mrs Davies will call on the Welsh Government to acknowledge that great strides must be taken in order to reach the 2050 target, and that the threat of not doing so is being amplified by the Welsh Government’s failure to recruit new teachers, as the number of students able to teach in Welsh is at its lowest point for a decade.

Commenting ahead of the debate, Mrs Davies said:

“It’s important with any long-term pledge like this that the Assembly is regularly updated on its progress, and given an opportunity to question the effectiveness of policy. There’s no sense getting to 2049 and finding out that we’re far behind where we should be.

“The purpose of the strategy has cross-party support. Today we want to uncover just how successful progress  is, in just one specific area, because I’m concerned that the Welsh Government hasn’t been clear about building long-term effectiveness into its activities to date.”

The Welsh Government is set however, to shelve Mrs Davies’s concerns, with planned amendments to delete all scrutinising aspects of her motion.

Despite this lack of accountability by Ministers, the Shadow Minister will today also encourage the Welsh Government to focus on the role of small and medium-sized businesses, and the difference they can make towards the one million target.

She will tell AMs later that one way to encourage a bilingual workplace is through developing a network of Welsh Language Business Champions, run by businesspeople for businesspeople.

“Through this,” she added, “businesses can be persuaded of the benefits of bilingualism in the workplace and for their businesses by people who have experienced those benefits.  That’s far more persuasive than the voice of government.”

The debate will also seek to consider how people in Wales can be protected from disproportionate application of standards.

“Welsh Language Standards have to be applied reasonably and proportionately,” she said. “The rights of Welsh-speakers are well protected by the Welsh Language Commissioner who has powers of investigation and enforcement when Standards are not upheld or applied too weakly.  There is no equivalent remedy for non-Welsh speakers where Standards may be applied over zealously – they have the expense of a court case.

“For example, we hear of the cases where a public sector job advert does not call for a high enough level of Welsh competence when perhaps it should.  Welsh speakers have recourse to the Commissioner. If a job is advertised as Welsh-essential rather than being clear that it could work for a Welsh-improver – without a full explanation – a competent learner won’t have recourse to the Commissioner, and they may be put off applying for a role where they could improve their Welsh.

“The workplace is an ideal place for experienced and committed learners to improve their Welsh to a high level.  Standards aren’t intended to disadvantage learners who’ve put time and effort into continuously improving their Welsh.

“That is why we suggest role of the Welsh Language Commissioner must be reformed to uphold language rights across the board.

“Lose our learners and we lose our language”.