By Jonathan Morgan
Jonathan Morgan is the Assembly Member for Cardiff North and a member of the Welsh Conservative Party. Mr Morgan believes Wales should fight the Coalition Government to protect S4C and the Welsh language from the looming spending cuts
I want to start with a confession, I don’t watch much TV except for a few favourite programmes on BBC and ITV and my viewing time of S4C is almost non-existent, partly because I don’t speak Welsh.
Regardless of this I do take an interest in S4C as it is based in my Cardiff North constituency and employs a significant number of people, and as a proudly Welsh politician I know that the channel symbolises the importance of the language and culture which, regardless of my own linguistic shortcomings, is important to protect and celebrate.
Like my colleagues I accept there will have to be reductions in public expenditure and that all bodies in receipt of public funds are not immune from this; however the extent to which a cut should apply to S4C is debatable. The UK Government is right to address the size of our country’s overdraft, the burden has become too big to carry and the interest payments alone will be in the region of £40 billion per year.
The UK Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt is new to his role and keen to make a mark stating that he wishes to achieve a cut of potentially 25 to 40 per cent of the S4C budget, with a heavy proportion of the cut front loaded in the 2011 financial year.
Sadly he thinks that such a reduction in the budget of S4C, which is currently around 5 per cent of his total departmental budget, could happen without little fuss, probably banking on the fact that most of the MPs in England wouldn’t be too bothered either way!
He is wrong about the fuss.
Jeremy Hunt needs to understand the significance of Welsh language broadcasting, what it has achieved since S4C was created and what it means to the culture of Wales. And whilst I have no doubt that there are questions about their governance, commissioning and viewing figures which all need to be addressed it is vital that this channel doesn’t take a disproportionate amount of the departmental cuts.
Cheryl Gillan, the Secretary of State for Wales, has rightly confirmed that the UK Government is committed to Welsh language broadcasting and to securing its future. This is a welcome intervention but it doesn’t resolve the issue of how and where the axe will fall.
The last Conservative Government through the 1996 Broadcasting Act linked the funding of S4C to RPI, so to achieve what Jeremy Hunt wants he is considering a clause in the Public Bodies Bill to sever this link. The fact that Welsh Conservative MPs will be expected to support this to achieve such a dramatic reduction in expenditure is unthinkable.
For those of us who have been at the heart of the development of the Welsh Conservative Party since the first Assembly election of 1999 I understand the dangers in this new political era of being seen just as Cameron’s ambassadors in Wales.
We must show that we are the voice of Wales even if it sets us on a collision course with the UK Government.
It was inevitable that we would find ourselves in this position at some point with an issue of great principle and it is my view that with the future of S4C, of its budget and of Welsh broadcasting, we have reached that point.