COUNCIL chiefs have come under fire over plans to promote the Gaelic language in Edinburgh – with bilingual road signs.
The move forms part of a new strategy to increase the use of the language which fewer than one per cent of city residents can understand. Other measures include Gaelic translations on council stationery and new signs for the council HQ and City Chambers.
Critics today rounded on the plans and questioned whether such a strategy was a priority at a time when the city faces a 90 million financial black hole over the next three years.
• Should Edinburgh introduce bilingual road signs to help promote Gaelic?
Even the council itself has admitted that Gaelic is "not generally visible" to the majority of people in Edinburgh. Councillor Iain Whyte, leader of the Conservative group on the city council, said: "I would find it as foreign a language as French or German.
"You would imagine that bigger signs with more writing on them will be more confusing and the bigger the sign is the higher the cost will be. It is not a language that has any long history in Edinburgh so it does seem odd. It will be interesting to see how officers can justify this at such a difficult time for council finances."
As part of the five-year Gaelic language plan, the council said that all of its letterheads, compliment slips, e-mails, forms, documents, promotional materials and websites will include a new Gaelic strapline. New bilingual "Welcome to Edinburgh" signs will also be erected at Waverley Court and the City Chambers.
And road signs in both English and Gaelic will be rolled out in "key sites" such as Tollcross.
The council said that the signs would be updated on a "replacement basis" when required – meaning there is no specific budget for the project.
Officials said that 4,000 people in Edinburgh speak, read and/or write the language, while a further 2,000 have some understanding of Gaelic.
City leader Jenny Dawe said: "I was very interested to learn that Edinburgh is home to nearly 6,000 residents who speak or have some understanding of the Gaelic language."
But Neil Greig, director of policy at the Institute of Advanced Motorists, questioned the wisdom of the strategy. "There is no doubt that if you are putting too much information on a sign it can be confusing and there can be a safety issue.
"The main issue is not safety but making sure that the limited funds Edinburgh has for roads and transport are spent correctly."
The Scottish Government's Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005 led to the formation of a group, Brd Na Gidhlig, which could instruct local authorities or public bodies to draw up plans to improve use of the language.
Donald Martin, a member of the interim senior support team at Brd Na Gidhlig, said: "Edinburgh was selected because of the establishment of Gaelic medium education (at Tollcross Primary School] a number of years ago. Also, there is a fairly strong group of people promoting the language in other fields, such as art and culture."