Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Setting an example

There's an article in today's Western Mail about Dŵr Cymru call centre staff being trained to work in Welsh as part of a new qualification.
This a positive step in my opinion and many public bodies serving 'customers' in Wales would do well to follow this privately owned utility's lead.

It reminds me of my own time working in a call centre for the Inland Revenue. I was one of around 200 staff based in Cardiff and another 200 in East Kilbride, Scotland who answered queries on the Employer's PAYE Helpline. As far as I knew, I was the only first language Welsh speaker working there although there were a few second language Welsh speakers who had gone throught Welsh medium education in the south east*. As calls from 3 different lines were diverted to us anyway, I suggested to the call centre manager that a Welsh language option could be added and that I'd be willing to recieve these. The manager's reply was that as we were answering calls from all over the Uk and not just from Wales that the Welsh Language Act didn't apply. Although I don't know the ins and out of the act I'm sure this was'nt the case, but even if it was true the Revenue could have been giving it's customers a much better service.

Sometimes when I was speaking to an employer I could detect by their accent that they were Welsh speakers and I would offer to continue the call in Welsh, and apart from one caller they all prefered to continue in Welsh. In around 3 years I'd say by a conservative estimate that this happened around 50 times. As someone from north Wales it's esier for me to detect who speaks Welsh from north Wales accents, so there may have been the same amount again with south Wales accents which spoke Welsh but unknown to me. I've since estimated that if I recieved a hundred calls from Welsh speakers (probably more) and that between Cardiff and East Kilbride there are 400 call centre staff, then as much as 40,000 calls to the helpline could have been made by Welsh speakers (please correct my maths if I'm wrong).

* There are 9 Welsh medium comprehensive schools in the south east. 4 in Rhondda Cynon Taf, 2 in Cardiff, 1 in Caerphilly, 1 in Torfaen and 1 in the Vale of Glamorgan.


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