Tair Chwaer and Con Passionate were the last of our Sunday night family viewing but they were both superb, high quality, productions.

‘I always wanted my work to be considered up there with the best of British television drama.’ The award winning screenwriter Siwan Jones was just this week speaking about her early series on S4C. ‘But you know, these days,’ she continued, ‘the budgets are so slim you just do the best you can.’

Much as I am enjoying her latest work, the gritty Enid a Lucy, she has a point. How can little S4C compete with the likes of Netflix and Amazon which are spending millions on high end drama? The final episodes of Game of Thrones by the way will top $15 million apiece.  

The trouble for S4C really started back in 2010. The then Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, cut its funding by more than 36 per cent and then took it off the government’s books completely, handing it over to the BBC.

In the early years of that settlement S4C faced similar cuts to the BBC. ‘It’s only fair they share the pain,’ was Auntie’s mantra. But of course it wasn’t fair then and it isn't now.

The National Wales: Gary Monk from S4C's Pobol y Cwm Picture: S4CGary Monk from S4C's Pobol y Cwm Picture: S4C

S4C’s budget this year is £81.35 million, BBC1 around a billion. There is no comparison and as I told any politician at the time who would listen, ‘S4C is the product of market failure. It can’t pay for itself. It’s not like any other service. It truly is Public Service Broadcasting.’ 

This week’s announcement from the DCMS that the licence fee would be frozen but that S4C would be getting £7.5 million extra for digital services is a welcome short term fix, but it disguises the long term decline in the channel’s fortunes and, wholly funded by the licence fee, the existential threat it faces from 2027 when the current Royal Charter comes to end.

READ MORE: The future of S4C and Radio Cymru should be in Welsh hands

The result of continued cuts to Welsh languageTV is plain to see: fewer hours of original programming and high-end drama, cheaper magazine and formatted programmes, more repeats and inevitably - fewer viewers. You get the picture.   

Now if you were working out a funding model for the Welsh language channel today you wouldn’t, as the old saying goes, start from here.

Tied to the apron strings of the BBC, but having thankfully lost some of its bounce as a political football (remember zero viewing figures and being the most expensive channel in the world?) S4C is still having to cut its cloth from an ever decreasing roll.  

Even as the axe was being swung more than ten years ago I was cautioning against transferring the funding of S4C from Westminster to Cardiff Bay.

The argument ran like this: given the (then) politicised nature of the Welsh language, would an Assembly really not choose to spend limited resources on, say, a children’s hospital rather than spaff it away on a television channel for an already pampered minority?

We at S4C, quite rightly, had to remain apolitical. Looking back, maybe we should have expressed a view - but that would have raised all sorts of issues. 

The one thing we did get right back then was to have S4C named on the face of the Public Bodies Act 2011 and set down that the Secretary of State actually had a statutory duty to ensure sufficient funding for S4C.

That I guess is how Nadine Dorries can dictate to the BBC that although the licence fee will be frozen, S4C will get more money for its digital output. But hang on, what happens in 2027 when, if Ms Dorries is to be believed, the BBC and its little Welsh cousin are left without any kind of licence fee? 

READ MORE: 'We need more diversity in Welsh language role models for the next generation'

S4C is not just a Welsh language channel. Yes it serves its core heartland audience but, as the Welsh Government works towards its target of having a million Welsh speakers, it is also an important asset for Welsh learners.

Football fans get to access English language commentary on S4C. It’s a vital tool for normalising the language for children and what would my non-Welsh speaking sister in law in Port Talbot do without her fix of Pobol y Cwm?

The National Wales: Con Passionate was one of S4C's most popular dramas Picture: S4CCon Passionate was one of S4C's most popular dramas Picture: S4C

S4C is well liked, even by those who don’t watch it and has spawned a successful and outward looking creative sector in Wales employing thousands of people.  

The Culture Secretary says that she ‘knows how popular’ S4C is in Wales. But even if the BBC manages to reinvent itself as a mixed funded, subscription led business after 2027, it is unlikely to want to be squandering any of its hard earned cash on a minority service.

Shouldn’t we then act now to reinvent S4C, (not forgetting BBC Radio Cymru of course), to ensure properly funded Welsh language media for future generations?

Has the time come for us to stop begging for a handout from the top table, those tedious negotiations with government and the BBC and sort out a workable, settled and lasting formula? 

READ MORE: ‘Let this be the last time Westminster decides S4C budget’

Committees, reports and the commentariat, myself included, have banged on about the lack of indigenous news services for Wales and the democratic deficit born of a lack of coverage.

Things are slowly changing. The government bit the bullet and agreed to pay for the online service Golwg 360. Since its inception The National has gone from strength to strength and Nation.Cymru has proved that actually, we can do something for ourselves.  

‘Devolve broadcasting’ is a neat slogan but what if there is nothing to devolve? As there may well be in 2027.

In a post-pandemic world, health and education will quite properly be the main focus for our parliamentarians but is it now time for them to stop the hand wringing about the media, stop looking towards London for handouts and actually put their money where their mouths are?  

The new Labour/Plaid Cymru deal commits to funding new and existing media content and distribution in Wales. 

READ MORE: How a rejected teddy bear helped establish S4C

The First Minister told the Senedd this week that the decision to freeze the BBC licence fee strengthens the case for giving Wales its own broadcasting powers. Then let's do it! 

The detail of any new service/s will have to be worked through but it must be obvious by now that we cannot rely on others to do this for us. If we are serious about the future of Welsh language broadcasting how can we put together innovative and exciting proposals made in and paid for by the people of Wales? And that’s a question for today. 

Tim Hartley was Head of News at the Welsh Government and Director of Corporate Affairs at S4C 

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