Every year, millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money are wasted in Wales as a direct consequence of the necessity to adhere strictly to the provisions of the Welsh Language Act. In my view, this Act needs to be urgently re-examined in great detail so as to ensure that this state of affairs is not allowed to continue. Let me provide three, fairly typical everyday examples of how public money is wasted unnecessarily within the Principality: (i) When Welsh local authorities wish to alter a road layout, they are obliged, as everywhere else, to announce their plans in the local press. In Wales, however, the cost of this announcement is effectively more than doubled because the advertising must be bilingual. Costs could easily be slashed by the simple expedient of adding one line to an English language advertisement stating that ‘a Welsh version of this announcement is available on request’. However, currently, this appears not to be acceptable under the terms of the Act. (ii) A voluntary organization recently wished to provide patient information leaflets on sickle cell disease in a range of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Asian languages. Perhaps predictably, they ran out of money before the task was complete. One of the leaflets that was however successfully produced was in Welsh (because this was an obligatory requirement of receipt of public funding), despite the fact that it is vanishingly unlikely that any Welsh-speaking sickle cell disease patient actually exists in Wales. (iii) When scientific positions at my host institution, a leading Welsh University, are advertised in the local press, one is billed for the (more than doubled) cost of obligatory bilingual advertising. This is absolutely not what my hard-earned medical research funds were supposed to be used for! Further, I estimate that my cash-strapped host institution is obliged to fork out ~£250,000 per annum for this purpose. This is at a time when cut-backs are rife and some Welsh higher education institutions may have to merge or even close. Again, a perfectly reasonable compromise would be for the advertisement to state that a Welsh language version of the text was available on request. As the Welsh Language Act stands, however, this is unacceptable. These are just three examples of senseless waste in a virtual sea of wastefulness. Principality-wide, the sums of money involved are enormous and, to my mind, constitute a fertile hunting ground for massive savings that would be almost entirely painless to administer.
Why is this idea important?
At a time of great financial stringency, we can ill afford to be pouring money down the drain. But this is precisely what is happening in Wales as a consequence of the overly officious imposition of the provisions of the Welsh Language Act that has now sadly become commonplace. This is ultimately driven by the vociferous Welsh language lobby who appear to make the promulgation of the Welsh language their number one priority, to the exclusion of everything else, including education and health. Nobody knows precisely how much money is spent in Wales every year in adhering to the terms of the Act – such questions routinely go unanswered, presumably due either to partisan political motivation or acute embarrassment! What is clear is that if Wales opts to spend millions of pounds every year on adhering rigidly to the provisions of the Act, something else has to give because there is only a limited amount of money in the pot. It is not hard to identify some of the things that are sacrificed at the altar of the Welsh language. Psychiatric care for disturbed adolescents is woefully inadequate in Wales as compared to England. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the Welsh Assembly Government is more responsive to the very vocal minority dedicated to promoting the Welsh language than they are to some of the most needy (but least articulate) of its citizens. The Welsh Language Act is already beginning to act as a disincentive to business expansion in Wales (with the obvious exception of the burgeoning translation industry!). Indeed, Welsh business probably already operates with a built-in competitive disadvantage as compared to its counterparts over the border in England. Costs of everything are increased, from signs to phone books, from the letters, invoices and bills necessarily provided in duplicate, from service advertising to websites. If action is not taken soon, the situation will get worse because the Welsh language lobby is now intent on further tightening the Act in order to extend its jurisdiction from the public sector to the private sector. It is unfortunately not ‘politically correct’ in Wales to stick one’s head above the parapet and voice these concerns as I am doing, but I am confident that my views are shared by the majority of Welsh people. I am raising these issues because I believe that it is high time they were brought out into the open and fully discussed. I also believe that, as things stand, the Welsh Language Act does a major disservice to Welsh people, Welsh public services and ultimately the UK taxpayer whose money is being used to further the political objectives of a very small number of people intent on promoting the Welsh language at the expense of many other worthy causes.