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Plain English campaign news articles

Campaign celebrates best ever awards ceremony (20 December 2007)

Plain English Campaign supporters spent the weekend celebrating the success of their ‘best ever’ awards ceremony.

Around 400 guests attended the event. They were treated to a brilliant presentation from top comedian and TV personality Lenny Henry and the campaign’s John Wild.
Award winners from leading national and international media organisations rubbed shoulders with government officials and company representatives.

Highlights from the ceremony included an acceptance speech from top BBC Radio Devon presenter Judi Spiers. Judi delivered her speech in broad ‘Devonian’ to huge applause. But the biggest cheer of the ceremony was reserved for International Media Award winner Bruce Hill, of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Flying in from Australia to receive his award in person, he ripped into jargon peddlers and gobbledygook gabblers without mercy. But he did so with typical Australian good humour.

The story of the Golden Bull winners and the award of the ‘Foot in Mouth Award’ to Steve McClaren went worldwide. Newspapers and radio stations in New York, China, Canada, South Africa and Australia took up the story along with the biggest names in the UK media reaching a possible maximum radio and TV audience of around 26 million.

Campaign supporters reported a record number of ‘hits’ on the www.plainenglish.co.uk – nearly 200, 000 in one twenty – four hour period.

According to press officer Steve Jenner, this is only part of the story, though. ‘The Steve McClaren story may have grabbed the headlines. But importantly, it gave us an opportunity to highlight the good work of the Inside Write and Plain English Award winners. These are often government departments, companies and not – for – profit organisations who are rightly criticised when things go wrong. Unfortunately, they are rarely praised for the good things they do. It is a positive aspect of our work that we were able to praise the work of these organisations before millions of people.’

Plain English Campaign Award winners 2007
‘Plain English’ category (for the year’s clearest documents)

  • Liverpool Housing Trust for their ‘Pictorial Tenancy Agreement’
  • Stockport Women’s Aid for their ‘Advice booklet’
  • CO-Awareness for their ‘Carbon Monoxide Poisoning’ leaflet
  • The Prostate Cancer Charity for two information booklets
  • Alistair McIntosh for ‘A guide to surveyors’ jargon’
  • Chancery Group for the ‘Cephalon employee benefits’ booklet

Inside Write category (for clear internal government documents)

  • Defence, Science and Technology Laboratory (MOD) for the ‘Distil’ newspaper
  • Department for Children, Schools and Families for ‘feedback’ magazine
  • National School of Government for their ‘Joining the Civil Service’ handbook
  • Forestry Commission for the ‘Operational Guidance Booklets’
  • DVLA for ‘Licence’ magazine
  • Driving Standards Agency for the ‘Make a difference conferences 2007’ booklet

Campaign calls for withdrawal of Heathrow consultation document (11 February 2008)

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.”

Brown accused of 'patronising response' (12 February 2008)

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.”

National Excess: coach company races railways for jargon award (28 February 2008)

Leading language pressure group Plain English Campaign has accused a coach company boss of 'driving people mad' with gobbledygook.

Campaign spokesman Steve Jenner explains: "Has National Express boss Richard Bowker learned nothing from the Golden Bull Award presented to Virgin Trains last month? He accuses Network Rail of a 'loss of focus', and then goes on to say that 'National Express is far more than a coach company, it is a travel solutions business.'"

"No it isn't. A travel solutions business is someone with a mobile soup kitchen. What exactly does a travel solution contain? How do you solve travel? It sounds like a plot line for an episode of Dr. Who!"

"It is a travel company. You buy a ticket, and get a ride on a bus, train or whatever. This is yet another example of 'management speak' and business jargon, and it is driving people mad. Everywhere you look there are companies offering 'solutions'."

The campaign is already accepting examples of jargon and gobbledygook for the annual awards ceremony in London next December.

Campaign supports MP in call for war on small print (4 March 2008)

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.

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