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Carwyn Jones, Labour leader and First Minister for Wales, was grilled this morning about devolution and the future of public services in Wales.

In a brief television interview with Andrew Marr, Mr Jones defended his decision not to ring-fence the NHS, and maintained that the Wales Job Fund would tackle what Marr described at “unemployment black spots”.

Carwyn Jones AC

Carwyn Jones, courtesy of Flickr

“I do not believe for one moment health has been ring fenced in England,” he said. Mr Jones highlighted the 7.5% decrease in Wales’ health budget.

“We can only do what we can with the money that we get,” he said.

Mr Jones said of unemployment: “There is no one answer. The last thing you do is remove the future job fund – taking away the scheme that helped them the most seems ridiculous.”

He claimed the Wales Job Fund would create 4,000 jobs for young people.

Marr tried to rustle Mr Jones’s feathers by asking him if he felt Wales had to “march in step” with Westminster.

“We have a business-like relationship with the UK,” Mr Jones replied. “We want to shield people from the worst effects of cuts. We do things in Wales not because we want to be different for the sake of it or to be awkward,” he maintained.

Marr also suggested that Welsh universities would become “second class” and “pound saver” universities if they decided against raising their tuition fees.

Mr Jones explained he did not want to price “talented young people” out of university, and reminded Marr that some universities would be able to raise their fees if they met certain criteria.

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Cardiff is a multi-cultural melting pot that attracts people from across the globe. Yet its metropolitan nature can often disguise the city’s growing Welsh community. Home to 33,000 Welsh speakers, the language is growing steadily in the capital, particularly in the West.

Map showing numbers of Welsh speakers in Cardiff 1999-2001:

Historically, Cardiff was not a Welsh-speaking city, but it has since been transformed. There is greater confidence in the language, and people are increasingly proud to speak it, as these figures published by Cardiff Council show:

  • 1991: 18,064 Welsh speakers in Cardiff (those who could read, write and/or understand Welsh)
  • 2001: 31,944 Welsh speakers

The Welsh language itself has been in the spotlight recently. Last week the Welsh Language Measure was approved by Assembly Members, and there have been suggestions that S4C should broadcast English programmes, amid plans to scale back the broadcaster.

I spoke to Professor Mark Drakeford, and discovered that while Cardiff boasts 33,000 Welsh speakers, that impressive figure amounts to just 11% of all Welsh speakers in Wales.

Prof Drakeford served as Rhodri Morgan’s chief special adviser for almost ten years, and is now the prospective Labour candidate for the Cardiff West constituency, following Morgan’s decision to retire.

Having grown up in Carmarthen he moved to Cardiff in 1979. He spoke of how far the Welsh language has come.”You would expect these days as a Welsh speaker that if you wanted to conduct a conversation or a discussion with almost any official body in Welsh that you would be able to do it, and I think that is a huge change,” he said.

Elliw Iwan, who is part of the Welsh-medium Development team at Cardiff University, agreed. “Welsh was previously a language that had to defend itself, but now it is not like that.”

Angharad Thomas, a Youth Officer from Menter Caerdydd, said. “Welsh is everywhere. People just don’t notice. When tourists visit one of the first things they say is ‘the signs are in Welsh and English! Wow!’ We just take them for granted. Welsh is everywhere, on road signs, on menus. You hear it on the street more and more.”

Menter Caerdydd is a not-for-profit organisation funded by the Welsh Language Board and local councils, which promotes the Welsh language through activities for people of all ages. Ms Thomas, who works at the Cardiff branch, said:

“I feel a real bond, a real affiliation with the language. Language is a culture, a long-standing identity. It is about more than communicating – it’s who you are.”

Ms Iwan agreed. “Language is so emotional. That’s why they call it your ‘mother tongue’, she passes it on.”

Ms Thomas argued that Welsh speakers are largely misunderstood. “If I request something in Welsh, people ask ‘why do you want a copy in Welsh when you can speak English?’, but it’s about more than communication,” she said. “There are many pre-conceptions of Welsh speakers. People don’t understand bilingualism.”

Prof Drakeford agreed with this, and helped to dispel some of those myths:

Turning to S4C, which is based in Llanishen, Cardiff, Ms Thomas said: “I wouldn’t want English programmes on S4C. There are so many English shows on TV already, if we start hosting English programmes it may as well not be there.”

Prof Drakeford agreed: “I don’t think you can be serious about the future of a language if it doesn’t have its own broadcaster in the modern world.”

Ms Iwan added: “It’s more than a channel, it’s a way of safeguarding out language.”

In contrast, Welsh speaker Dafydd Pritchard said he would be happy to see the broadcaster host English programmes:

The Welsh language is also under scrutiny after calls for it to be given official status. In October the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) made amendments to a proposed law on the Welsh language, which they claimed would give it equal status with English in Wales, requiring companies and public bodies to use more of it.

But both Ms Thomas and Prof Drakeford doubt the significance of the move: “Making Welsh official wouldn’t make a difference to communities,” said Ms Thomas. “English isn’t an official language, but of course it is in a way.”

Prof Drakeford echoed this:

Ms Iwan said: “We cannot make everyone learn it. We have to be realistic. We need to create a healthy attitude towards Welsh, and develop an understanding of the culture.”

Welsh-medium education is also a particularly interesting issue in Cardiff, because around 85% of Welsh speakers come from English speaking homes. Increasingly parents are sending their children to one of the two Welsh-medium secondary schools in Cardiff, even though they themselves cannot understand the language.

A sign of this trend, a third Welsh-medium secondary school is due to be built in Cardiff by 2012.

Prof Drakeford spoke passionately about Welsh-medium education, describing it as a “unifying language” in multi-cultural schools in Cardiff:

He also spoke of the issue of resources in education:

Ms Iwan, who works to promote the Welsh language at Cardiff University, said there exists a strong community of Welsh speaking students in Cardiff. “There is a growing demand – students have a voice. It is gradually becoming more common to teach university courses in Welsh.”

It is clear that the Welsh language is a vital component of Cardiff life, and one which is set to grow over coming years – just this week the WAG unveiled A Living Language: A Language for Living – a new strategy to ensure the Welsh language is used in all areas of daily life.  

Ms Iwan expressed her desire to help create “a bilingual Wales”, and spoke passionately about the future of the language:

“We’ve got everything in place to safeguard Welsh, but now we need to get people to use it. We need to normalise the language, instead of having Welsh speakers in one box and non-Welsh speakers in another.”

For more information…..

BBC: The history of Welsh

Menter Caerdydd

“Video Flashcards: Level 1 – Saesneg for Welsh Speakers”:

Wales is preparing for severe austerity, after the Assembly Government laid out the toughest draft Budget since devolution.

Total spending will fall by 9.9% in real terms (after inflation) over the next three years. This means the Welsh Assembly Government faces real-terms loss of £860 million next year alone.

Total health spending is to be cut by 7.6% in real terms, being frozen at around £6billion until 2012-13. Hardest hit are the economy, transport and environment, down by more than 21% over three years. Investment in Welsh universities will be cut by 9.3%. Spending on big infrastructure projects will also be cut by 40.6%, suggesting the days of major new hospitals and schools are over.

The Minister for Business and Budget, Jane Hutt, said the 40% cut to capital in Wales was particularly problematic. “29% is the kind of level that UK government and other devolved administrations are experiencing, so we are going to be hit the hardest in terms of the capital cuts, in addition to being bypassed and sidelined in terms of all the other infrastructural investments that are being made by the UK coalition government in other parts of the UK.”

The draft Budget is one of the most important political events of the year for Wales. It allocates around £14.5bn of expenditure across the public sector, covering devolved areas like health, education, agriculture, and economic development. Each minister will set out the details of cuts to their departments over the coming weeks.

The draft Budget is especially important because of May’s assembly elections – many voters will base their decision on who to vote for on this Budget. It is also likely to spark the mother of political debates in Wales, as the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats criticise the cuts and put forward their alternatives.

Ms Hutt claimed that although the Budget is framed against the toughest era since devolution, it will build “resilience” in Wales.

“We will continue to stand up for the people of Wales,” she said. “All evidence shows that the funding levels are below the level of need and we will continue to fight for a fair funding settlement.

“This is a government that is clear about its priorities but is taking its responsibilities seriously and offering a budget which will help build resilience – resilience in our economy and in the provision of the vital services on which people depend.”

The capital budget for the NHS has taken a real hit, falling from £283.3 million this year to £205.2 million in 2013-14. This makes the building of major new hospitals extremely unlikely.

Welsh Conservatives say they would have ring-fenced health spending, and argue that by failing to do so, Labour and Plaid are putting frontline services at risk.

Last night on BBC Wales Today, health economist Professor Marcus Langley said: “There will be a gap of three quarters of a billion by the end of this period. We will see defensive moves – minor casualty departments closing and so on, but the big money has to come from shifting hospital care into the community, that’s the big prize really.”

A serious blow has also been dealt to capital investment. By 2014-15, the capital budget will be almost half 2009/10 levels in real terms, and its lowest level since devolution. The 40.6% fall in capital funding, amounting to a loss of around £307 million, will halt investment in roads, schools, hospitals, roads, and flood defences. “The capital settlement is so poor,” said Ms Hutt. “We are moving into a period next year where it is very difficult for ministers to decide in terms of profiling their capital programmes.”

She did, however, confirm projects funded by Skip were ongoing, and will continue through until next year. Ms Hutt also pointed out the WAG has retained funding of £50 million a year for capital.

The budget for environment, sustainability and housing is down 5.8%, amounting to a loss of £35.9 million over three years.

The department of rural affairs takes the third biggest hit in percentage terms, 14.3%. This means a loss of £19.2m

So what, if anything, has avoided the chop? Universal benefits such as free prescriptions and school breakfasts will not be scrapped – in fact, they will experience a 3.7% rise by 2013-14. Funding for schools will also increase from £1.83bn to £1.9bn. It is worth nothing that while education and skills spending are relatively protected, they will still fall by 8% in real terms by 2013-14.

Education Minister, Leighton Andrews, said: “Budgets for schools – both within the education department and through the revenue support grant – have been protected by 1% above the rate of change in the Welsh Budget.”

Ms Hutt, said: “If you look at the priorities we’ve set it is for schools and for skills and advance of education, but also, as I’ve said, we’ve been able to protect post-16 education.”

It remains to be seen where exactly the axe will fall in terms of specific services. Ministers will be outlining the details of cuts to their departments over the coming weeks. There will be two months of intense scrutiny by assembly committees before and after Christmas, followed by a debate of all AMs in mid-January. The assembly government will then draw up its final budget and put it to a vote of members following another debate in the second week of February. In the mean time, expect to see an intense political debate unfold. Liberal Democrats have already attacked cuts in economy and transport, and CBI Wales said the budget “largely failed” to use government spending to support economic growth.

I asked Cardiff what they thought of the spending cuts:

Matthew, a student in Cardiff, said:

John Williams, retired, from Cardiff, said:

Alan Evans, retired, from Cardiff, said:

Sarah, from Southampton, living in Cardiff, said:

Ilirjan Allamani, a builder living in Cardiff, said:

Wales’ Budget: Your Reaction