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Credit: Cwmbran Life

A target to reach a million Welsh speakers by 2050 is “almost impossible” to hit due to real-terms budget cuts, with demand for courses outstripping capacity, a committee heard.

Dona Lewis, chief executive of the National Centre for Learning Welsh, gave evidence to the Senedd’s culture committee as part of a one-day inquiry into post-16 Welsh provision.

Ms Lewis warned that the “massive” growth the National Centre for Learning Welsh had hoped to achieve this year will no longer be possible.

She told the committee there are waiting lists for people who want to learn Welsh, “so the demand is higher than what we can reach at the moment”.

Ms Lewis said: “Our work has grown since the centre was established back in 2016 and funding has grown with that. But, to reach more people, clearly, more funding is needed.”

‘Almost impossible’

Llŷr Gruffydd warned that budget pressures jeopardise the chances of meeting the target of a million Welsh speakers and doubling daily use of the language by 2050.

The Plaid Cymru MS for North Wales said: “Reaching the targets of Cymraeg 2050 was challenging already and almost impossible now.”

Mr Gruffydd suggested it is a tragedy that the National Centre for Learning Welsh cannot meet demand, saying: “There’s a risk that we’re missing out on an historic opportunity.”

The Welsh Government’s 2024-25 budget allocates £53.5m to support Welsh language spending, with a near-£3m reduction compared to last year, according to a report.

Ioan Matthews, chief executive of Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol, which works with colleges, universities and employers, said further education and apprenticeships are crucial.

‘Few and far between’

Dr Matthews told the committee that opportunities to study through the medium of Welsh have been few and far between until relatively recently.

Dafydd Evans, representing Colleges Wales, welcomed a more positive approach since Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol’s remit was widened to include further education.

Pressed about whether the Cymraeg 2050 targets are realistic, Mr Evans, who is chief executive of Grŵp Llandrillo Menai, was not confident the aims are achievable.

Mr Evans, who has worked in the sector for 30 years, said: “If we’re going to have new Welsh speakers then we would need a lot more resources in the pot to reach that target.”

Carolyn Thomas, a Labour backbencher, highlighted the Welsh language commissioner’s warning that attempts to expand post-compulsory provision have been an uphill battle.

‘Losing momentum’

Dr Matthews said there has traditionally been a lack of investment but the picture is changing and he was hopeful funding will be restored next year.

Asked about the impact of the re-prioritisation of the Welsh Government’s budget, he told MSs that there is a risk of losing momentum and opportunities as a result.

Dr Matthews agreed that budget pressures will make the 2050 target more challenging.

He said: “What we need is a plan and trajectory which sets out milestones for us. But any slowing down of that momentum will make that trajectory more challenging.”

Mr Evans stressed the importance of focusing on transitions from education and promoting the value of Welsh in the workplace, so young people see the language as a skill.

‘Massive problem’

Lisa Mytton, strategic director of National Training Federation Wales, raised concerns around recruiting qualified assessors and cuts to the apprenticeship budget.

Mr Evans called for a national strategy to create a bilingual teaching workforce, saying there is  a “massive problem” in recruiting Welsh speakers in fields such as science.

He welcomed a review of vocational qualifications, carried out by Sharron Lusher, the former principal of Pembrokeshire College, but warned that progress on its findings has been slow.

Mr Evans said made-in-Wales qualifications and resources are currently not in place.

Dr Matthews pointed to the potential role of the forthcoming Welsh language education bill, which aims to transform provision in schools and give learners more meaningful skills.