Saturday, November 08, 2014

The Lidl Welsh Language "Ban"

Media reports are suggesting that Lidl in Wales has imposed a Welsh Language ban on its staff.  This appears to have arisen from a case in Scotland, rather than Wales, where two polish employees were asked to speak to Lidl customers in English.

Following reports of that case the BBC Welsh Language Website appears to have done an interview with a "spokesman" from Lidl who seems to have been singularly unprepared for the interview, and know little about Wales and their stores in Wales.

I am aware of a number of Lidl stores in Wales, presumably successful, as they have expanded rapidly across North Wales.  Clearly staff there have been interacting with their customers in both English and Welsh.  Welsh Language has official status, and I am certain that Lidl will not be seeking to go behind that status.  If they do they risk being investigated by the Welsh Language Commissioner and they will rightly be censured.   Public Services in Wales have to be offered both in English and in Welsh, allowing people the choice of which language they want to speak.  The same is not true of private companies, but a measure of common sense has to be applied.  One tweet suggested that no business should operate in Wales if they did not speak or offer Welsh.

Perhaps depressingly for me is the rise of the Lidl stores in the first place.  Take Denbigh for example two really great butchers on the High Street - but recently the greengrocers and a bakery have closed for business.  I hope that those outraged by the "ban", if there is one, take the chance to really support local businesses, whose £ goes back into the economy, and choose to buy local rather than supporting a foreign company where margins are squeezed to offer customers produce as cheaply as possible.

Living as I do in an area where 50% of the population speaks Welsh, I am perhaps aware of some wider issues, including the fact in the first three Assembly terms the records of committee meetings where AMs receive evidence and scrutinise policy decisions, were not available bi-lingually, due primarily to cost and practicality.  Fortunately technology advances have changed the position but that has only happened in this Assembly, and I am delighted that they are now bi-lingual.

Many of the Community Councils here conduct their business in Welsh, that is their right and their choice the meetings are held in Welsh, the minutes are produced in Welsh all pre and post discussions are in Welsh.  At the same time, unless there is accurate translation the remaining 50% of the population are effectively disbarred from taking part in matters which are directly relevant to their community.  Whilst there is a Welsh Language Commissioner who can ensure that the democratic process is accessible for Welsh speakers, there is no corresponding recourse where the position is reversed, presumably Simon Thomas and others would equally condemn that position.   When I  receive letters, as I did last week, saying that I am "English" and  a "Tory" I should "go back over the border" I regard that as racist.  This kind of racism would be completely unacceptable if I was say Afro Carribean, or Irish, or Indian  - but apparently because I am "English" it is acceptable both to put that  in writing - and to say it publicly. Similarly for the tweet that was favorited a number of times calling for "extermination" of people like me.  I didn't see any of the outraged language tweeters condemning those sort of comments, quite the reverse.

That is why it was so sad to see Lord Elis Thomas being sacked for speaking out against Plaid  calling people "un Welsh". We lost a good committee chair, who was highly effective and passionate about all things Welsh, but who dared to be open and inclusive about the concept of "Welshness".

In the meantime I have no doubt that Lidl stores will operate as they have done over many years, speaking to their customers in both English and in Welsh.