Agenda Item No.
THE VALE OF GLAMORGAN COUNCIL
CABINET: 16TH JUNE, 2014
REFERENCE FROM SCRUTINY COMMITTEE (CORPORATE RESOURCES): 8TH APRIL, 2014
1029 WELSH LANGUAGE STANDARDS (L) –
The Head of Performance and Development informed the Committee that at its meeting on 7th April 2014 Cabinet had approved the Council’s response to the consultation with the Welsh Language Commissioner in respect of proposals of Welsh Language Standards for the Council and that it would be forwarded to the Commissioner prior to the 18th April deadline for responses.
The Council’s response to the Welsh Language Commissioner’s Standards Investigation questionnaire was attached at Appendix 1 to the report.
The Welsh Government had agreed Welsh Language Standards for certain public bodies, including Councils. The role of the Welsh Language Commissioner was to determine how the Standards would apply to each body individually and then assess whether they were being properly implemented.
The Standards had been published as part of the Welsh Language Measure 2011. Councils would receive a compliance notice from the Commissioner later on in the year based on their response to the Consultation. Failure to comply with the Standards could mean fines and potentially reputational damage.
The questionnaire was important as it would form the basis of the level of compliance that would be required by the Vale of Glamorgan Council. The questionnaire was the Council’s opportunity to identify which Standards were already being implemented, but also highlighted barriers to implementing the Standards in full.
In response to a question regarding the impact the Standards would have on the Council’s tendering process and the awarding of contracts, the Head of Performance and Development advised the Committee that as this was a Welsh Government policy document, it had to be assumed that the proposals complied with European procurement regulations. He further advised that he understood the Standards to require all communications, including tender documentation, to be bilingual in Welsh and English. The Committee agreed that it was advisable for Legal Services to undertake a review of the Standards in relation to tenders in order that the Council complied with European and statutory requirements.
The Committee sought clarification regarding the impact of the Welsh Language Standards on the Council’s current recruitment and selection policy / arrangements, in particular whether the need for individuals to speak Welsh was an infringement of the Human Rights Act. Members were advised that the Standards would be a legal requirement in Wales, and careful consideration would need to be given to what posts had an ability to speak Welsh as an essential requirement.
Referring to the Council’s response, a Committee Member felt it was relevant for the ratio between the number of Welsh and English speakers within the Vale of Glamorgan be detailed earlier on in the Council’s response. The Committee was advised that as Cabinet had already endorsed and approved the Council’s response and would not be meeting again prior to the submission, no changes could therefore be made. The Council would now be entering into a period of discussion with the Welsh Language Commissioner, and in the event of any issues arising would be willing to discuss specific issues relevant to the Vale of Glamorgan and it was hoped that a mutual way forward could be agreed to comply with the Standards.
Councillor Dr. I.J. Johnson, with permission to speak, indicated that he felt that the Standards represented a positive step forward. He made reference to the expectations of taxpayers in relation to the ability of Vale of Glamorgan staff to communicate bilingually. In response the Head of Performance and Development indicated that although only 3% of Vale staff were able to speak Welsh it did not mean that only 3% of contacts could be conducted through the medium of Welsh since there was a full Welsh service available through C1V, the Council’s main point of telephone contact. Current statistics illustrated that around 11% of the population in the Vale of Glamorgan were able to speak Welsh and that ideally the staff ratio should mirror this statistic. A Linguistic Skills Strategy was in place but this needed to be reviewed, and the Committee was advised that the Council needed to encourage its staff to learn Welsh and that each department was looking at posts where Welsh speaking was an essential requirement.
(1) T H A T the Committee note the Council’s consultation response to the Welsh Language Standards questionnaire.
(2) T H A T the Cabinet be requested to ask Legal Services to undertake a detailed examination of the impact of the proposed Welsh Language Standards on the Council’s tendering process and for the awarding of contracts.
Reasons for recommendations
(1) To make the Committee aware of the response in regard to the proposed Standards.
(2) To ensure that the level of risk and future legal liabilities are minimised.