An independent review into the Welsh Government's support of publishing and literature in Wales has recommended the Welsh Books Council take on some of the functions of Literature Wales, including the administration of its Book of the Year prize. It also advised the government continue to provide "appropriate" financial support for Wales’ bi-lingual literary tradition to "enable it to thrive in the 21st century".
The review was originally commissioned in September 2015 by Economy Secretary Ken Skates, and chaired by professor Medwin Hughes, to look at whether or not the government's aims in supporting the industry were being achieved. The consensus of the panel was that there is "significant good practice and effective support for publishing and literature that should be continued and built upon for the future". However, it also found there was "clear evidence of real problems in some areas" - such as strategic planning, priority setting, governance, risk management, spending and its response to the digital age. Steps need to be taken to ensure a support structure that was "more effective and fit for the future", the report said.
A key recommendation was the Book of the Year prize, which is presented to the best Welsh-language and English-language works first published in Wales across genres, should be transfered from Literature Wales to the Welsh Books Council, to increase its commercial impact. Other functions it recommended be transferred include bursaries, literary events, its Writers on Tour funding scheme, and provision for children and young people.
It also made a case for "a strong, innovative publishing industry that provides high-quality jobs, competes internationally and allows professional writers of all backgrounds to develop career pathways in Wales" and, in the context of the post-Brexit environment, said it would be "imperative" for the Welsh Government to consider cultural policy that would "celebrate 'creative Wales’ on an international stage".
Skates, speaking in the Senedd, said: “The report that I am publishing today sets out a series of recommendations. Some of these are for the Welsh Government, others are for the industry and the key delivery organisations.
“Given the significant weight and compelling nature of the evidence received, I am minded to accept the main recommendations and the Welsh Government will now work with the relevant organisations to implement them.”
He added: "Some of these recommended changes are extensive but they are in response to specific needs in a specific area of activity. They are in no way a reflection of the wider good work of the Arts Council or Literature Wales including the excellent delivery of major events and activities linked to our themed years, which will remain unchanged."
“I am persuaded that these steps are needed to create a support structure for publishing and literature which is more effective and fit for the future."
Literature Wales this morning responded to the recommendations, to which the Welsh government has not yet formally responded, that they would need “careful and thorough consideration”.
"The Welsh Government’s Review into publishing and literature in Wales presents a number of recommendations which will require careful and thorough consideration," a spokesperson said. "We look forward to reading the report in full and working with colleagues in Welsh Government, Arts Council of Wales and the Welsh Books Council to ensure that literature in all its forms continues to be accessible to a wide range of communities and individuals throughout Wales."
Professor M Wynn Thomas, chairman of the Welsh Books Council, commented: “I am pleased that the recommendations acknowledge the key role the Books Council has played for over 50 years in supporting and developing the publishing industry in Wales. The proposals complement the Council’s current work and will ensure that publishers, writers and the promotion of reading will remain at the heart of the Council’s mission.”
Reacting to the review, Graffeg's publishing director Matthew Howard expressed concern the transfer of responsibilities could lead to confusion about the support available to authors and publishers. He commented: "I'm a little concerned that the suggested adoption by Welsh Books Council of a number of roles and responsibilities currently undertaken by Literature Wales may lead to a blurring of the lines between support available for authors and support for publishers.”
However, with a number of other Welsh publishers, he also welcomed proposals, particularly those focused on enhancing Wales' profile in publishing on the world stage. "I'm pleased to see an emphasis placed on increasing Wales's presence internationally, for example at international trade fairs, along with support for an umbrella organisation for English language publishers," he said.
Garmon Gruffudd, m.d. at Y Lolfa, commented, "We support the report’s main findings and believe that it addresses some of the duplication that has been prevalent in the funding of Welsh publishing over the years. It also raises many challenges that we as publishers and the industry as a whole need to address."
Penny Thomas, publisher at Firefly Press, said she also thought many of the recommendations "appear to make sense". She added she hoped the Book of the Year prize might be expanded to recognise children’s and YA titles.
"There are some terrific authors and prizewinning books being published from Wales at the moment but they do not compete on a level commercial playing with titles from larger publishers, so I welcome everything in this report which will help the small but determined Welsh publishing industry and so add to the diversity of books published in the UK," she said. "Many of the recommendations in the report appear to make sense; personally I'd welcome a Wales Book of the Year which included a prize for children's and YA books by writers born or living in Wales."
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