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Plain English campaign news articles

Police forces accused of using 'ploddledygook'

Plain English Campaign is calling on the country’s police forces to return to basics – starting with the language used to communicate with the public. The campaign has noticed an increase in the number of complaints it receives about police communication, particularly slogans.

Statements about standard policing are made into 'revelatory' slogans such as ‘Committed to fighting crime’ or 'Keeping you safe'. Other taglines such as “Putting you First” and “Our focus is you” suggest an extra commitment to the tax–payer. Forces are also adopting new jargon such as 'Citizen-focused command centre', and referring to members of the public as 'customers'.

Campaigners argue that as police jargon-busters exist on a number of police websites, forces must already know that explanations are needed for some of their commonly-used terms. They say that the longer people have to fight their way through this sort of meaningless jargon, the less they pay attention to the real issues.

PEC spokeswoman Marie Clair said: "It is reminiscent of politicians announcing that they are ‘taking the terrorist threat very seriously’ and that ‘education is a top priority’. You can’t argue with the sentiment, but the repetition of a widely accepted ‘truism’ isn't acceptable as a replacement for clearly–stated policy.”

She added: "Do the public really understand terms such as 'County Delivery Unit'? It sounds more like a milk round than policing. It seems that administrative confusion is hitting our streets when we really need to spend the resources on policing. Maybe this Ploddledygook is the latest weapon against the criminals - it certainly had me floored."

Plain English Campaign supports MP in call for war on small print

Nottinghamshire MP Dr. Nick Palmer is to call for an end to small print, and Plain English Campaign has pledged its support.

The Broxtowe MP is launching a Bill in the House of Commons on Tuesday 26 February. The Bill has attracted the backing of MPs from across the main political parties. Support also comes from a coalition of campaign groups including RNIB, Age Concern and the Trading Standards Institute.

“The scourge of small print has made life a misery for many people over the years,” said Plain English Campaign spokesman Steve Jenner. “There is absolutely no reason for it apart from making information more difficult to read. If we look at the organisations that are backing the Bill, we can see there’s a whole range of people who are affected.

“The only conclusion to draw is that when companies and organisations use small print, they don’t want us to understand.

“We’d also hope that by forcing the issue on small print, jargon and gobbledygook will also be ditched. We hope that this Bill makes companies realise that it’s time to re-edit their documents, and get rid of unnecessary small print. Even the most complicated public documents can be written in a way that people can understand.’

Plain English Campaign declares war on 'buzzwords'

An article by Bill Jamieson in ‘The Scotsman’ has highlighted the way in which ‘Newspeak’ has invaded Scottish life.

The author received a ‘deluge’ of responses, all featuring specific examples. Political ‘buzzwords’ and phrases like ‘policy-based evidence’, ‘consensus’, ‘partnership working’ and ‘connectivity’ came in for particular criticism.

Plain English Campaign has made comments in the media several times about this issue recently and has decided enough is enough. Campaign spokesperson Steve Jenner said today:

“It is frequently suggested to us in interviews that it is acceptable for people to use buzzwords and phrases in the workplace. We don’t think it is. There are a number of reasons why.”

“If a council, health authority or other large organisation holds a training event, the ‘delegates’ are more likely to spend their time playing ‘buzzword bingo’. This is amusing until you remember these events are funded by public money.”

“It also breeds terrible cynicism about the political process. Bill Jamieson credits a contributor for pointing out that ‘public consultation’ and ‘have your say’ usually mean the exact opposite. We have looked at a number of ‘public consultations’ this year which suggest exactly that. We applaud Bill’s ‘overarching purpose’ in writing this article.”

“We also call on all public agencies, political organisations and private companies throughout Scotland to run plain English training sessions. These could feature as part of forthcoming training events. A good starting point would be for each organisation to identify a top ten list of buzzwords or phrases it uses. And then come up with a plain English alternative list.”

Gordon Brown accused of 'patronising response'

Plain English Campaign supporters were ‘angered and dismayed’ by an answer at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday. Susan Kramer, MP for Richmond Park, asked Gordon Brown to withdraw the Heathrow expansion consultation document. Her call came as a result of it being declared ‘atrocious’ by Chrissie Maher, the founder of Plain English Campaign.

The Prime Minister responded, saying that “the consultation is there for the public to involve themselves in” and “I hope people will vigorously join the consultation”.

“This is a totally patronising response,” said Campaign spokesman Steve Jenner. “The Prime Minister just seemed to ignore the issue raised. The consultation document may be ‘there for the public to involve themselves in’ but that just isn’t good enough. Any old rubbish can be ‘there’. And that’s what this document is. Anyone who thinks this is a suitable document for public consultation is holding the public in contempt."

“How can ‘people vigorously join the consultation’ when the document looks as if it has been designed to exclude people from participating?"

“It should be possible to read, understand and act on a consultation document after one reading. I would challenge anyone to do that with this particular document. Irrespective of the rights or wrongs of the Heathrow expansion plans, consultation carried out in this way is just undemocratic."

“Once again we would urge a re – think; this document is not fit for the purpose for which it was intended. We ask the government to withdraw this document and offer a genuine consultation to interested parties.”

Maher calls for withdrawal of Heathrow consultation document

The founding director of Plain English Campaign, Chrissie Maher, has slammed the government over the Heathrow expansion consultation document. Speaking at the campaign’s headquarters in Derbyshire earlier this week, she described the document as ‘atrocious’.

Susan Kramer, MP for Richmond Park sent a copy of the document to the campaign. “This document effectively takes away human rights,” said Chrissie. “No ordinary person with an interest in the plans to expand Heathrow could be expected to read and understand this.”

Chrissie found several faults in the document, including the following:

  • Excessive jargon in the summary, such as ‘periodic emissions cost assessment’ and ‘external climate change costs.’
  • Huge assumptions about the reader’s knowledge of government policy.
  • Jargon specific to particular professions, such as ‘net present value terms’ and ‘mixed mode operations’.
  • An unclear introduction in Section A of the document.
  • Section B makes use of terms which are not familiar to most people.
  • Section D uses technical terminology such as ‘operation of runway rotation’.

“How can this be a true consultation if most readers cannot understand the document? We’ve seen this time and time again - local councils and government departments are always launching ‘consultations’. But they are not real consultations because they design them in such a way that most people are unable to take part.”

“After all these years of our campaigning, the Government should realise they can’t treat people with the contempt shown in the past. Unfortunately, once again we see more proof that this is not always the case. We are not ‘taking sides’ in the debate, but it is so important that in a democracy, consultations are genuine. People must have a fair chance to understand the documents put before them. Otherwise they cannot tell you what they really think.

“I am calling on the Department of Transport to withdraw and redraft this document.”

Steve McClaren scores another own goal with Foot in Mouth award

Unemployed Steve McClaren has received another blow while he counts his two million pound payoff. The ex-England boss has won the Plain English Campaign’s Foot in Mouth Award for this piece of footballing wisdom:

'He (Wayne Rooney) is inexperienced, but he's experienced in terms of what he's been through.'

He wins the award despite strong entries from George Bush and Jeremy Kyle.
Last year Naomi Campbell joined previous winners Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Gere and Tracey Emin as the public figure who had made the most baffling comment.

Seven Golden Bulls have been awarded this year, including one to Richard Branson’s Virgin Trains for a response from the company about problems booking online. UKTV have won one for an extremely enthusiastic press release about their new channel, ‘Dave’. In a year where silly signs seem to have dominated the news, BAA at Gatwick Airport have won a Golden Bull for a fine example.

Top comedian and TV personality Lenny Henry will present the awards at the Brewery, Chiswell Street, London EC1Y 4SD on 11 December 2007. It will be the 28th annual Plain English awards ceremony.

Winners of Plain English Awards include Liverpool Housing Trust for their ‘Pictorial Tenancy Agreement’ and Alistair Macintosh, Huart Tai Huang and Geoffrey Holden FRICS for their ‘Guide to surveyors’ jargon.’ Stockport Women’s Aid will also pick up a Plain English Award for an advice booklet.

The National School of Government and the Forestry Commission are amongst the winners for the Inside Write Awards. These are given to government departments for clear internal communication.

Media winners include the first International Media award winner, Bruce Hill from the Australian Broadcasting Company, and BBC Five Live’s Midday News which scooped ‘Best National Radio programme’. Teletext has won the Osborne Award for their contribution to plain English.

Lack of clarity earns 0% for families

Revelations from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) market study released today have reinforced the damning criticisms about bank charges that continue to arrive at Plain English Campaign from members of the public. Based on the OFT findings, the lack of clarity in some communications is a major reason for banks having poor relationships with customers.

While many banks acknowledge that plain language enables better financial management for both themselves and their customers, there is an obvious need for legislation in this area to ensure consistency for the customer.

Financial organisations have a responsibility to answer and help people as part of their service. But the current financial climate has highlighted that unclear and misleading information can cause peope financial hardship. For instance, recent customer marketing from one major bank claims to counteract the effects of the 'credit crunch' by offering emergency funds. In fact these funds are no more than an addititional overdraft facility at a hugely inflated interest rate.

Plain English Campaign's founder Chrissie Maher OBE said, "The grass roots issue here is that clear communications can make the difference between a family being out on the street, or them getting through this period of economic challenge. Our key message is that clear communications empower the individual."

"Many organisations, particularly in the finance industry, already recognise the valuable contributions that crystal-clear language can offer in preventing the confusion around unnecessary and excessive charges. Over the coming months we will continue working with the banks and other consumer groups, and have offered our services to the OFT on this matter in the hope of achieving greater clarity, consistency and transparency throughout the industry."

Plain English is coming home

Plain English Campaign plans to play a major part in the “Liverpool - European Capital of Culture celebrations” - if it can find somewhere to accommodate an exhibition.

The national organisation shot to fame campaigning for clarity in the language used in official documents. It is also well - known for the “Golden Bull” awards it gives every year to people who have put “foot in mouth”, and for the Crystal Mark.

The roots of the Plain English Campaign are in Liverpool. Founder Chrissie Maher was one of the original team who worked on the groundbreaking Liverpool newspaper, the “Tuebrook Bugle”. Copies of the “Bugle” going back as far as 1971 will form part of the exhibition. Now she’s looking forward to showing how the campaign started and giving local people the opportunity to try Plain English for themselves through workshop sessions which will be offered as part of the Campaign’s exhibition.

“We are part of Liverpool and it’s history and culture so naturally we want to be part of the Capital of Culture celebrations. As the campaign grew out of the frustration of ordinary people in Liverpool with the way they were being treated we feel that it is right that we should return to the city at this time. We’ll be reminding everyone of the importance of clear language and how this can help people understand what to do and what is happening in their lives” says Chrissie.

“We need somewhere for our exhibition which is easy for people to get to but is also well - known so that everyone will know where we are. Language is one of the most important parts of any culture - and being understood is the key. Our presence at the City of Culture event should be central to a celebration of this City’s part in developing and promoting different aspects of our common culture. We’re speaking with the City Council and the University at the moment and hope to have more news soon.”

The Plain English Campaign are looking to run their exhibition in the city for over a month.during next summer.

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