Basques' Example Could Hold the Key to Saving Our Language; Toni Schiavone, Cymdeithas Yr Iaith Gymraeg's Sustainable Communities Spokesman, Outlines How the Society Believes Government Should Respond to the Recently-Published Census Figures and Outlines Some of the Ideas Contained in the Group's 'Maniffesto Byw'

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Byline: Toni Schiavone

THE Census results shocked many; the decline in the number of speakers and communities where Welsh is the majority language was widely reported. But now is not the time to dwell on the negative, it's time for action.

Government policies can help smaller languages. Look at the Basque Country's experiences over the last 20 years. There, the percentage of Basque speakers rose from 24% to 32%. Their success the result of a concerted approach, and investment reflecting the scale of the need.

We in Cymdeithas yr Iaith have published our "Maniffesto Byw" (Living Manifesto) (www.cymdeithas.org/maniffestobyw), with 26 specific recommendations on how to strengthen the language. The ideas include: | Externally auditing the Welsh language impact of every penny of government spending; | creating an education system that ensures every child leaves school fluent in the language; | transforming the planning system to deal with the challenge of in and out-migration; | allowing councils to raise council tax on second homes to 200% to fund help for first-time buyers and housing stock renewal, and, | placing language impact assessments of planning developments on an independent, statutory basis.

Our manifesto is a living document; designed to start a dialogue on the action needed to grow the language.

Some, including the Welsh Government, appear to be in denial over the Census results. Government set itself the target of 25% of the population being able to speak Welsh by 2011. In fact, it fell to 19%.

It was the Welsh Government that promised, and failed, to halt the decline in the number of Welsh-speaking communities. Even more significantly, an analysis of the data shows gains made in the early years of education fall sharply away in later years.

Our "Living Manifesto" calls for a step change in policy; emphasising sustainable economic and social development. It also emphasises the need to safeguard the Welsh language in those communities where it remains strong.

International research and experience here shows the greatest motivation for learning and using a language is experiencing it as the language of the community - in the street, shop and workplace. Sustaining these communities means rejecting large-scale housing developments not reflecting local need and creating a separate Planning Inspectorate for Wales with a sustainable approach to growth.

The current investment of mainstream funding in Welsh is woefully inadequate. What percentage of the current economic regeneration funding is directed to Welsh language enterprises? What percentage of millions spent on workplace training is spent on training through the medium of Welsh? A fundamental review and rebalancing of spending is needed.

When Cardiff Airport's passenger figures went into decline, the First Minister acted with speed, and a lot of public money - committing tens of millions of pounds extra to turn its fortunes around. Is the Welsh language less important than an airport? We are also calling on the Welsh Government to target six to 10 areas as "Welsh Language Growth Areas" linking the language directly to economic stability and regeneration. …