Welsh language commissioner to investigate Torfaen council
5:22pm Thursday 29th August 2013 in Gwent news
TORFAEN council is set to be investigated after technical issues cause a delay in the setting up of its Welsh helpline service.
The council is being investigated by the Welsh language commissioner 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, but the Welsh helpline service is yet to be launched.
A Torfaen council spokesman said they were “disappointed” but will support the commissioner with the investigation.
He said: “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."
He confirmed that the Welsh Language version is being built and is expected to be fully operational by October.
The Welsh Language Scheme report stated that the council’s objective 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.”
Torfaen’s Plaid Cymru Group Leader, cllr Jeff Rees, said: "Following on from Labour's debacle with children’s 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."
However, Conservative leader Graham Smith, who doesn’t speak Welsh, points out that no residents have ever raised the issue of Welsh language provision with him.
He said: “The council seems to make reasonable efforts to accommodate those people who wish to use welsh in their dealings with the council, for example translation services at full council meetings.
“I suspect that if you were to ask residents if for example they would prefer a new road sign in welsh or the potholes in the road repairing, most people would opt for the potholes to be repaired."
The Commissioner’s office 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.
A spokesman for the Welsh Language Commissioner said that the council has been informed about the investigation into allegations that it failed to comply with the statutory Language Scheme in relation to an automated telephone service.
At the end of the investigation the commissioner’s office will make recommendations to the council.
If the council do not accept them, then the Commissioner can refer the authority to the Welsh government minister responsible for the Welsh language, Carwyn Jones.
Mr Jones could then make a mandatory order for the council to comply, which if Torfaen failed to do, they could potentially face criminal proceedings.
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