Osian Llywelyn recording a podcast

Osian Llywelyn, Director of Regulation and Deputy Welsh Language Commissioner, explains the development work to embed a co-regulatory approach, and the steps being taken to implement this in 2024. 

You can listen to a podcast recorded by Osian and Hanna Hopwood here and read the blog below.  

The Welsh Language Commissioner's vision is a Wales where people can use the Welsh language in their everyday lives.  

At the end of 2023, we ran a campaign encouraging Welsh speakers to use the language in their everyday lives while encouraging organisations to promote the Welsh-language services they provide to the public. This promotional element is one aspect of our work but, if we are to boost the confidence of Welsh language users in the services they receive, and increase the use of Welsh-language services, it is essential that we maintain a robust and effective regulatory system.  

I am aware of extensive public discussions that have taken place regarding how best to achieve this vision, and for the need to strike the right balance between regulating duties in relation to the Welsh language and promoting the language. Implicit in this discussion is the suggestion that both elements are mutually exclusive of one another. I believe strongly that this oversimplifies the situation. Regulation and promotion should be viewed as intrinsically linked.  

However, it is important that we, as a responsible regulator, review our approaches continuously to ensure the best possible outcomes for Welsh language users.  

We already place expectations on public bodies to provide a range of high-quality Welsh-language services for the people of Wales to use, and we will continue to take regulatory steps and hold organisations accountable where this does not happen sufficiently.  

But I believe that Welsh language users will benefit greatly if we can involve and engage more effectively with the organisations we regulate, with the aim of encouraging an open and transparent culture while offering them support and clear guidance.  

Key themes 

Theme 1: Increased focus on outcomes rather than processes 

Theme 2: Develop further a genuinely proactive strategy 

Theme 3: Prioritise our regulatory work 

Theme 4: Facilitate our investigation and enforcement work 

Earlier in the year, we set about gathering views and feedback from organisations on our regulatory work in order to gain an improved understanding of which aspects of our work were most valuable to them, and an indication of what they would like to see more of.  

We are very grateful to everyone who took this opportunity to share their knowledge, experience and views with us – the feedback is extremely useful to help us understand more about what is working and what we can do differently, and I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you. 

Theme 1: Increased focus on outcomes 

It is vital that we set our regulatory work in the context of the national vision to increase the number of Welsh speakers and increase the use of the language.  

We need to be regulating purposefully and strategically and be very clear about what we are ultimately trying to achieve. This will guide our regulatory work, our approach, and the decisions we make.  

To achieve this, we will develop and implement clear regulatory outcomes during 2024. Our intention when introducing these outcomes is that they, amongst other things:  

  • set the Welsh Language Standards and our regulatory work in the context of the national vision to increase the number of Welsh speakers and increase the use of the language 
  • provide transparent public statements of what we intend to achieve, and how we will demonstrate that it has been achieved.  
  • ensure that our regulatory activities focus on outcomes for Welsh language users and have the greatest impact on opportunities to use the Welsh language, and  
  • mitigate the risk that organisations focus on restrictive compliance as opposed to good outcomes for Welsh language users.  

In accordance with our co-regulatory approach, our intention is for these outcomes to represent the common aims and objectives of the Welsh Language Commissioner, public organisations and Welsh language users, and that we all take ownership of them.   

Theme 2: Develop further a genuinely proactive strategy 

One of the priorities in our current strategic plan is to implement a genuinely proactive regulatory strategy.  

We already undertake a great deal of proactive work – this includes issuing guidance and advice, as well as case studies of effective practice by organisations – but we can do more. For example, we can work with organisations to identify and analyse risks to the provision of Welsh-medium services and develop controls to mitigate such risks.  

With this in mind, we intend to develop and publish an annual programme to support organisations as they comply with the Welsh language standards.  

This programme will be a combination of face-to-face seminars, virtual webinars, briefings and newsletters, and will enable organisations to come together to discuss systemic issues, develop solutions and share good practice. It will also provide an opportunity for us to share information and identify any further guidance or support required.  

In addition to supporting those organisations which already implement the Welsh language standards, we will run a preparatory programme for those organisations which will become subject to the Welsh language standards during the next period.  

Theme 3: Prioritise our regulatory work  

In order to ensure our focus is on the most important outcomes, it is also important that we concentrate on the key areas. Our current regulatory framework states that we will use risk in order to manage the use of time and resources, focussing on work that will have the biggest impact on compliance.  

We will strengthen our efforts to implement this approach during 2024.  

One of our consistent aims is to increase opportunities for people to use the Welsh language and we must ensure that organisations consider fully the impact on the language when developing and implementing policies.  

Following a hearing in July 2023, the Welsh Language Tribunal confirmed that organisations are expected to give conscientious consideration to any policy decisions, recognising the relevant factors and their impact on the Welsh language. They must also include sufficient information in consultation documents on the possible effects of their proposals on the Welsh language, so that the public can consider them and give an informed response.  

As part of our work this year, we will ask organisations for specific and detailed information about any steps they have taken to review and adjust their arrangements to assess the effects of any policy decisions on the Welsh language as a result of this far-reaching judgment.  

Our focus will also be on those standards we consider to be strategically important. These include increasing the use of the Welsh language in workplaces; the promotion duties that have been placed on local authorities and national parks as well as the 5-year plans of health boards to increase their ability to carry out clinical consultations through the medium of Welsh. 

Theme 4: Facilitate investigation and enforcement work 

The Welsh Language Measure provides a number of potential actions the Commissioner can take to ensure compliance.  

When deciding which actions to take, it is important that we act in a way that focuses resources on activities that will achieve the greatest benefit.  

With this in mind, we can potentially deal with complaints and matters relating to compliance more effectively, avoiding the need to investigate where compliance can be ensured through other methods.  

For example, we can empower organisations to deal with complaints directly where failures occur, giving them the opportunity to resolve and rectify issues without the need for us to necessarily intervene.  

This would not prevent us from investigating a complaint immediately and taking appropriate enforcement action if this is necessary given the specific circumstances of the complaint. For example, where a complaint raises suspicion of a serious failure or requires urgent action. 

But by making our policies and investigation process more effective, we can focus more on the outcomes of our work, undertake more proactive work and prioritise the significant areas highlighted.  

We are currently considering and examining what changes are needed, and we will engage with stakeholders to gather feedback on any changes during the spring.   

Moving forward together 

Of course, this is just a flavour of the work we will be undertaking as part of our co-regulation approach moving forward. But I hope that it gives you an idea of the kind of activities we will be undertaking during the year to come, and that it is a clear indicator of our desire to work with organisations to achieve the aim of providing high-quality Welsh-language services and enable the people of Wales to use the language at work and in their daily lives.