Plain English campaign news articles

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.

Crystal Clear campaign wins victory for broadband users

The Crystal Clear Broadband campaign, launched by consumer magazine Computeractive, with support from Plain English Campaign, has convinced industry regulator Ofcom to force network providers to give customers clearer information about their internet connection speeds. More than 11,000 people signed a petition on the Downing Street website to put pressure on Ofcom to act.

The communications regulator has now introduced a Code of Practice that requires companies to give consumers an accurate estimate of the maximum speed their line can support before a contract is signed. Previously network providers were advertising super-fast connection speeds that were impossible to obtain for all but a very few of customers.

According to an Ofcom spokesman, the "issue of broadband speeds is an area of consumer interest and concern, as the Computeractive Crystal Clear campaign helped to highlight. Our Code of Practice will provide real clarity for consumers about the actual broadband speeds they can expect.

The regulator will also be carrying out what it has claimed is the UK's most authoritative and comprehensive broadband speed survey. This will identify actual broadband performance across the country and its relationship to advertised speeds. Many customers are still unaware that the actual speed they can get depends on a number of factors, including how near they live to their telephone exchange.

Steve McClaren scores another own goal with Foot in Mouth award (11 December 2007)

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.

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 – 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.”

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