Welsh Book Council cuts 'self-sabotage' say writers

Welsh Book Council cuts 'self-sabotage' say writers

A number of Welsh writers and publishers have condemned proposals to slash £374,000 from the Welsh Books Council's (WBC) budget, calling the move "unjust" and amounting to "self-sabotage".

In two separate letters sent to the Welsh government deputy minister for tourism, culture and sport, Ken Skates, writers and publishers have expressed their “dismay and grave disappointment” at the recently-revealed cuts to the WBC budget, which will “significantly impact on the publishing output of Welsh publishers.”

The WBC is facing a 10.6% cut to its £3.5m funding from the Welsh government for 2016/17, equivalent to £374,000. The cut to the Welsh-language publishing grant, also set at 10.6%, will amount to £187,000.

The WBC currently supports 300 publications a year – around 200 in Welsh and up to 100 in English. It also supports a large number of magazines and periodicals in both languages.

The first letter from writers, editors and poets highlighted the "significant and deleterious impact" the cuts will have on a "vibrant, bold and highly-acclaimed English-language publishing industry... which has a wide reach beyond Wales."

The letter has more than 200 signatures, including from poets Kathryn Gray and Gillian Clarke, and poet and president of Wales PEN, Menna Elfym.

The proposal is more than twice the proposed cut of 4.7% to National Museum Wales and Arts Council Wales which fund organisations including Literature Wales, which promotes Welsh writers and has helped to run the Dylan Thomas and Roald Dahl celebrations.

The writers' letter said: "The publishing industry of Wales is now facing a cut that is approximately double that of other prominent bodies which provide services to the culture of Wales. This is unjust and amounts to self-sabotage.”

The cuts will affect 10 English-language publishers based in Wales -  Parthian, Honno, The University of Wales Press, Gomer, Y Lolfa, Cinnamon Press, Firefly Press, Seren, Graffeg and Gwasg Carrg Gwalch, which have also written a joint letter to the Welsh government pointing out that “after a decade of standstill funding, grants to Welsh publishing in English will have been cut by 21% - £158,050 – in the last three years if these latest plans go through.”

The letter explains that publishing is an "essential part of a vibrant and dynamic Welsh culture within a diverse UK, which can cover all aspects of life from literacy to putting great Welsh writing on the world stage." It further states that the Welsh government support via the WBC, contributes towards a "level playing field", allowing its publishers to "compete by publishing attractive, high-quality titles which have an important economic, educational and cultural impact."

The publishers said: “Without support [from the Welsh government] it would be increasingly impossible for writers in Wales to be published in Wales to any level of commercial competition with the publishing behemoths in England … Funding from the WBC helps to level the playing field and to enable success.”

Chairman of the WBC, Professor M. Wynn Thomas, expressed his “grave concern” regarding the impact the cuts will have on the Welsh publishing industry and on the sector’s ability to respond to the expectations of various groups of readers.

“Over the past decade, the WBC has become a multifaceted, bilingual institution which is equally crucial to the English-language and Welsh-language publishing industry in Wales,” he said. “As a result of the proposed financial cuts, inevitably, fewer books will be published, which will be highly detrimental to the potential impact of books from Wales."

He added: "My great concern, following the recent announcement, is that some of the crucial procedures and systems which have been put in place over recent years, and which are now essential for the survival of a thriving, forward-looking publishing industry, will slowly wither away. The Books Council as an institution will continue to work vigorously in search of other sources of income, whilst realising the importance of our central function which is to promote the publishing industry in both languages for the benefit of the whole of Wales.’’

A Welsh government spokesperson told The Bookseller the cuts to the WBC followed a "significant" reduction in its own budget since 2010, with further real terms cuts to follow as a result of the UK government’s Spending Review.

"As a result of these financial constraints,  difficult decisions have had to be made in order to protect the services that people rely on the most," the spokesperson said. "We’re in discussions with the WBC about how they will make efficiency savings, while prioritising and targeting its grant programmes to support the publishing industry in Wales and protect jobs as far as possible."

The spokesperson added: “Meanwhile, the minister for economy, science and transport has agreed additional in-year funding to the WBC to undertake urgent work on its headquarters and distribution centre and upgrade the council’s IT systems. This will of course benefit the whole publishing industry in Wales.”

Lleucu Siencyn, chief executive of Literature Wales, has previously blogged about the need for a "professional arts scene, properly funded".