The Welsh Language Commissioner, represented by law firm Darwin Gray, has successfully defended an appeal against Swansea Council over the sale of a former Welsh-medium primary school.
An investigation was launched by the Welsh Language Commissioner after a complaint was raised about the Council’s decision that there was no use for Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Felindre as a public asset following its closure. The Commissioner determined that the Council’s policy decision of transferring the building from public ownership to the private sector before its sale had not properly considered the impact of doing so on the Welsh Language.
Swansea Council appealed to the Welsh Language Tribunal, and argued that no new policy decision had been made in regards to the transfer and that the Welsh Language Standards did not apply to the situation. Following a Tribunal hearing in June, the Tribunal concluded however that the Council had indeed failed to comply with the Welsh Language Standards and that their decision in regards to the transfer of the school to the private sector before its sale constituted a ‘policy decision’ under the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011.
Fflur Jones, Darwin Gray’s Managing Partner, who represents the Welsh Language Commissioner said:
We’re very glad to receive the Welsh Language Tribunal’s decision rejecting the appeal brought forward by Swansea City Council against the Commissioner. The decision emphasizes how important it is for Local Authorities to hold a detailed and full assessment into the potential effect that the disposal of a community asset can have on the Welsh language. The Tribunal’s decision and its focus on what constitutes a ‘policy decision’ is also an important precedent for other local authorities in respect of how to deal with such matters in the future.
Gwenith Price, Deputy Commissioner and The Welsh Language Commissioner’s Strategic Director commented:
I welcome the Tribunal’s decision. It confirms our position and means the council must ensure it now acts as it should and in line with the Welsh Language Standards in relation to future such decisions.
The judgment is important as the Tribunal confirmed that a policy decision means more than a written document and includes decisions relating to the conduct of an organisation’s business, such as the management of community buildings, restructuring services, and school closures. This case sets an important precedent and organisations should give the outcome careful consideration. I intend to correspond with public sector bodies to ensure that they are aware of the decision and to help them to improve where necessary.
The Commissioner has received an increasing number of complaints about policy decisions in recent years. An individual’s ability to turn to us if they suspect that public bodies are not following best practice is important. It’s also important that individuals know and understand that the Commissioner is there to protect their interests.