Torfaen becomes first council in Wales investigated by Language Commissioner
5:27pm Wednesday 21st August 2013 in Gwent news
TORFAEN council has become the first local authority in Wales to be investigated by the Welsh language commissioner.
The council are being investigated over whether an automated 24 hour helpline set up in June failed to comply with the authority’s own rules on providing services in Welsh
Torfaen’s launched its Welsh Language Scheme in March last year, which was signed off by the chief executive Alison ward and the leader of the council Bob Wellington.
The report stated that; “ As a council our objective in relation to Welsh is to be able to provide a consistent bilingual service across each service area.”The report went on to pledge: “All automated or voicemail systems which are linked to published telephone numbers will be bilingual, uncomplicated and easy to use,” but it appears Torfaen has fallen short of that standard. The Commissioner’s office, which replaced the old Welsh Language Board last year, will now see whether the council is breaching its statutory duties under the 1993 Welsh Language Act, which forces public bodies to ensure that English and Welsh can be used equally when dealing with them or accessing public services. A spokesman for the Welsh Language Commissioner said: “Torfaen County Borough Council has been informed that an investigation will be conducted under Section 17 of the Welsh Language Act 1993 into allegations that the Council has failed to comply with its statutory Language Scheme.
“The investigation is being conducted in relation to an automated telephone service which was launched by the Council at the end of June this year.
“The Council’s revised Welsh Language Scheme was approved by the Welsh Language Board on 30 March 2011.”
At the end of the investigation the commissioner’s office will make recommendations to the council on what they must do ensure equality.
If they accept them the matter can end there but if not then the Commissioner can refer the authority to the welsh government minister responsible for the Welsh language, which is currently the First Minister, Carwyn Jones.
Mr Jones could then in turn make a mandatory order for the council to comply, which if Torfaen failed to do, they would be in contempt of court and potentially face criminal proceedings.
A Torfaen council spokesman said: “We are disappointed the Welsh Language Commissioner intends investigating a breach of our Welsh Language Scheme for missing our deadline to implement an automated bilingual phone system.
“Scripts in excess of twenty thousand words for each language have been written and recorded in both languages. Due to several technical issues which could not be anticipated, the launch of both systems were delayed.
“The technical issues with the English language system are still being resolved but was launched with imperfections to support increased demand created by Welfare Reforms. The Welsh Language version is being built and tested based on what we have learnt to date and is expected to be fully operational by the beginning of October. We will support the commissioner fully with her investigation.”
Councillor Jeff Rees, Torfaen’s Plaid Cymru Group Leader said, "Following on from Labour's debacle with childrens education in Torfaen, this is yet another disappointing failure, it raises questions about the whether the Labour administration is even fit to run the statutory functions it is still supposed to control."
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