Cefin Campbell, Plaid Cymru’s Member of the Senedd for Mid & West Wales, has expressed his concern as 2021 Census data released this week shows the number of Welsh speakers in Pembrokeshire has fallen by 2.1% over the past decade.

Across Wales, a drop of 1.2% in those aged over 3 years of age who could speak Welsh was seen – dropping from a total of 562,000 (19.% of the population) in 2011, to 538,000 (17.8% of the population) by 2021.

Pembrokeshire witnessed a significant drop in the number of children aged 3 to 15 who could speak Welsh – falling by 8.5% over the past decade, compared with a Welsh average of 5.7%. Neighbouring Carmarthenshire saw a drop of 2.6% in this age group, and Ceredigion saw a drop of 6.5%.

Those aged 16-64 with the ability to speak Welsh fell by -0.2% in Pembrokeshire, contrasting a national increase of 0.3% across Wales. Meanwhile, in the age category aged 65+, Pembrokeshire saw a 2.2% drop, which echoed a nation decline of 2.3% across Wales over the past decade.

The Welsh Government set a target to have one million speakers in Wales by 2050 six years ago.

Responding to the figures, Mr Campbell said: “Figures for the Welsh language across Mid and West Wales are hugely disappointing and clearly raise significant concerns.

“Questions must be asked about the extent the Labour Welsh Government has provided effective leadership on Welsh language issues over recent years, particularly in growing Welsh medium education.

“This decline has happened on their watch since they took responsibility for language planning when they disbanded the Welsh Language Board over 10 years ago.

“In Pembrokeshire, the significant fall of over 8% in the ability of 3-15-year olds to speak Welsh highlights a failure over the past decade of delivering purposeful Welsh medium education in the county.

“We need to act urgently to halt this decline - and while there has been some progress made in Welsh medium education in the county, it clearly does not go far enough.

“This is a massive wake-up call for everyone concerned with the future of the language, and if we are serious about meeting the target of creating a million Welsh speakers by 2050 then its time for Welsh Government and local authorities to work together as a matter of priority to address the issue before we reach the point of no return,” he added.

Heledd Fychan MS, Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson for children, young people and the Welsh Language, added: “Plaid Cymru has long campaigned to ensure that access to learning and using Welsh is available to everyone in Wales and it is seriously concerning to see this demise in Welsh speakers under Labour’s watch.

“Cymraeg belongs to everyone in Wales, but we need more than warm words to ensure our language survives – we need radical action.”

Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and the Welsh Language stated that the census figures were ‘disappointing’ and not what the Welsh Government wanted to see.

“Census 2021 shows us one snapshot of what’s happened over the last ten years. We’ll look at those results in detail alongside all the other statistics and research that’s available to us,” he stated.

“I’ve often said that Welsh isn’t just something I speak, it’s something I feel, and I feel more and more people feel that the language belongs to them.

“The key is changing those feelings into language use.

“We’ll take time to examine the data carefully, in particular the figures relating to 3-15-year-olds.

“Covid-19 meant that 2021 was an extremely uncertain time, with many people concerned about their children’s Welsh language abilities, children were out of school, and it may be that we are seeing this concern reflected in the way they reported their children’s use of Welsh.

“The National Survey for Wales shows an increase in people saying they speak some Welsh. This contrasts with the census figures released today. This is also something we will look at carefully.

“I’ve previously said that I’ll review our statistical trajectory in light of the census data to look at what more we can do to support people to speak more Welsh in their daily lives,” he continued.

“As part of this, I’ll want to talk with people all over Wales in the New Year. But we remain absolutely committed to our aim of a million Welsh speakers and doubling the number of us who use Welsh every day by 2050.

“The census shows us what has happened over the last ten years up to 2021. Cymraeg 2050 has been in place for less than four years of that period, and much of that time was affected by Covid-19.

“We’ve got good reasons to be optimistic about the next decade. Cymraeg belongs to us all in Wales.

“Today, we see more children in Welsh-medium education, more opportunities to learn Welsh, and greater pride in our language and our identity than ever before.”