When dealing with complaints about unsatisfactory Welsh language services, the Welsh Language Commissioner's priority is to operate in a way which benefits the public the most.
The Commissioner priorities resolving shortcomings and improving Welsh language services, and takes this into account when deciding whether to undertake a formal investigation into a complaint.
Between April and July 2019, the Commissioner received 43 complaints from the public where there was a suspicion that an organisation was breaching one or more of their duties to use the Welsh language. He opened a statutory investigation into 21 (48%) of them. The remaining 22 complaints were grievances where the organisations concerned had confirmed that they had taken steps to resolve the matter or had committed to do so, and had provided adequate assurance that the matter was not likely to recur.
Aled Roberts, Welsh Language Commissioner, said:
"Each statutory investigation takes approximately six months to complete. Of course, there are cases where a full investigation is the most appropriate route to take, and use powers to enforce improvement. I have followed this route with almost half of the cases I am able to investigate.
"Historically, a full investigation was opened when dealing with nearly every complaint where there was a suspicion of failure. Full investigations were taking place even when organisations were already taking steps to rectify matters and put arrangements in place to ensure that they did not happen again."
Here’s one example: The Commissioner received a complaint about an automatically produced e-mail that had been sent out by a council in English only. In responding to the allegation, the council immediately acknowledged the failure and took steps to rectify the matter. Even so, a full investigation was carried out, with the Commissioner coming to the conclusion that a failure had taken place. However, no enforcement action was imposed on the council as the matter had long been resolved. This investigation took the Commissioner’s office seven months to complete.
Aled Roberts added:
"Were I to open a full, formal, investigation to every case, and spend six months working on solutions to issues that have already been resolved; I don't think I would be making the most efficient use of limited resources. Nor do I think that it would be the best service I can offer Welsh speakers or to improve the position of the language.
“When a full, statutory, investigation is the way to resolve a failure, then I do that and set out actions to force organisations to resolve the situation and to ensure that the failure is not repeated. I have strengthened the way we monitor how organisations respond to investigations and enforcement action, so that we don’t find ourselves in a position where we are investigating the same issue over and over again.”
The Commissioner commissioned an internal audit of its arrangements when dealing with complaints and investigations in 2018. This led to making adjustments to its procedures to enable consideration to responses from organisations before deciding whether or not to open an investigation. This is consistent with the Commissioner's enforcement policy and has resulted in fewer statutory investigations being opened and complainants receiving earlier responses.