Planet has been published in Wales since 1970, and the New Welsh Review was founded in 1988. Each magazine is deeply meaningful and idiosyncratic for its audience, with a sizable readership inside and outside of Wales. In recent weeks both have issued statements saying that the Books Council of Wales has cut their core funding. Planet will still publish its upcoming February issue, and both publications said they will provide further comment on this matter.
The defunding decisions came a few months after the Wales Arts Review announced it would not seek renewed core funding from the Books Council of Wales. It published a piece by co-founder and executive editor Gary Raymond, who wrote: “I cannot allow Wales Arts Review to act as validator of the Books Council of Wales’ lack of leadership for the [English language magazine] sector as a whole.” He said the sector’s funding model is outdated and inadequate, lacking creativity, energy, and vision, and that the “apathetic” funder is “creating a graveyard and calling it a symposium”.
One magazine to rule them all
In total, the Wales Arts Review, Planet, and the New Welsh Review received £106,250 in support from the Books Council of Wales out of the £175,918 available in 2022–2023. So these three magazines alone got 65% of funding.
Historically, the Books Council of Wales took a year-on-year approach towards core funding and its distribution. But it has now moved to a model that will fund English-language cultural periodicals for the period covering 2024–2028. In 2023–2024, £95,000 of funding has been distributed to English-language magazines. Welsh-language magazines are much better funded.
Helgard Krause, Chief Executive of the Books Council of Wales, released a statement when funds were awarded. “There was, as expected, a very high level of interest in the grant, with the total applications amounting to more than double the £180,000 available.” She added: “[W]e anticipate that the Sub-committee will be looking to advertise a tender for the development of one brand new English-language literary magazine with a strong focus on fiction and creative non-fiction with a sustainable business model at its core.”
The New Welsh Review commented: “[T]hat leaves £80,000 for the ‘new’ literary mag – which is higher than the sum we applied for and were told we had applied for too much? Please someone correct my maths.”
Funding and equality
The Books Council of Wales was founded in 1961 as a national charity, and still operates as such. It is supported financially by the Welsh Government but, as a charity, isn’t required to be as transparent or accountable as other state-sponsored funders. In contrast the Arts Council of Wales, a public body, is subject to the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED).
The PSED acknowledges that some groups of people sharing a protected characteristic like race or sexual orientation may suffer disadvantage or have particular needs. So public authorities must consider whether they should take action to meet such needs or reduce inequalities.
The duty has its roots in the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, which placed a duty on public bodies to eliminate racial discrimination, and promote equality of opportunity and good relations between people of different racial groups. In an internal document, the Books Council of Wales confirmed it began collecting information on its financial support for Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) writers in 2019, 58 years after its founding. As a charity, it is of course exempt from the 2000 Act, though its Strategic Plan 2022–2027 contains such considerations as diversity and equality.
The BAME population in Wales grew by 400% in 30 years, from 1% in 1991 to 6.7% in 2021. According to the Welsh Government’s Anti-racist Action Plan, just 2% of that population aged over 16 uses the Welsh language from day to day.
This significant rise isn’t reflected within Welsh publishing, those working in it, the books or periodicals published, or leadership within the sector. The growth coincided with pots of funding becoming successively smaller. And its charitable status means the Books Council of Wales doesn’t have to tell us how many minority ethnic writers receive grants, or how its decisions are reached.
Books Council of Wales: a broken funding model?
In the same week as funding cuts were announced, Krause celebrated a “real milestone, the first novel for adults in Welsh written by an author from an ethnic minority background”. But that wasn’t the case: there have been many minority ethnic Welsh language novelists, including Käthe Bosse-Griffiths, Judith Maro, and Eldra Jarman. It’s unclear what the Books Council of Wales gains by erasing these historic contributions, and points to an anxiety around ethnicity and language at the funder.
As a BAME Welsh language speaker, I often find conversations on ethnicity rubbing up against conversations on language in Wales. The 1991 Welsh Language Act has a unique relationship to the Race Relations and Equality Acts, too. In April, I published research co-authored with Dafydd Trystan. We found that 65% of Black Welsh language speakers, 65% of Asian Welsh language speakers, and 61% of mixed Welsh language speakers are under 16. Only 25% of White Welsh language speakers are in that cohort.
The health and future of publishing in Wales – whether in English or Welsh – is directly contingent on facilitation of underrepresented writers, and heightened funding that creates opportunities. If pots of funding get smaller as underrepresented communities grow larger, it creates a culture in Welsh publishing that reinforces the inequality we seek to dismantle for a fairer and more equitable sector.
Planet first published Sugar and Slate by Charlotte Williams, a title republished in October as part of the Black Britain: Writing Back imprint at Penguin, curated by Bernardine Evaristo to correct “historical bias in publishing”. What happens to minority ethnic writers like Charlotte Williams if publishers like Planet can’t exist, because of the Books Council of Wales and the sector’s funding model?