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Communication at odds with costs

This morning our press officer, Marie Clair, was asked by BBC Essex radio to comment on the article about a charity, Disability Essex, that has terminated its contract with a government department because of the resources involved in submitting 4,500 pages of information as part of the monitoring process required by the government contractor.

Our Government have set up the Big Society Deregulation Taskforce (BSDT) in a positive effort to investigate unnecessary bureaucracy. Plain English Campaign are willing to help by offering our services based on our past experience during the Rayner Review of 1983, that worked successfully to reduce unnecessary paperwork in government.

It is distressing to see the daily examples we receive everyday, where vital messages are being lost because of poor communication skills and the needless cost in time, effort and money.

The Transparency website of Number 10, that invites members of the public to contribute to the 'Big Society', is not a shining example of transparency.
Much of the language is taken, word for word, from its final business plan.
One example is

"centrally aggregated commodities procurement to drive scale economies".

And yet one of the Cabinet Office objectives in building the Big Society states,

"support charities, social enterprises,...... to compete for opportunities opened up by Public Service Reform".

These contradictions only serve to cast further doubt rather than provide clarity. It's one thing to talk and write about the merits of inclusivity and accessibility. It's quite another thing to make it happen.

However, there is no doubt that charities and community groups will be expected to fill gaps left by reduced public services, as they have been doing for many years. But the increased need is more than the existing, and reducing resources, of these hard-pressed organisations, very often manned with volunteers and serving the most vulnerable members of our society.

Of course, there needs to be communication and information about what is happening to the tax payers' monies, but it seems self-defeating to require any organisation to produce a stack of paper half a metre high when one page has been enough in the past. The long term effect is more difficult to measure or mend. The frustration and demotivation of people, the diminishing trust and respect in government systems, the fear of involvement in worlds where we have little control; these 'negative outcomes' of bureaucratic mayhem are killing the Big Society ideal even before we can understand the big words on its website.

Unless we take responsibility as individuals, and as a government, for this bureaucratic lunacy in our 'paperless age', the trees will have their sweet revenge as the wheels of our society come to a grinding halt. We follow rules blindly without question or without applying common sense when we already have solutions to hand.

MPs themselves have complained about impenetrable documents. Unsurprisingly one came from the Department of Universities, Innovation and Skills a couple of years ago. This now restructured department is now the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, which jointly runs the BSDT.

Surely we are not waiting for a major disaster, like war, flood or famine, to reset the perspectives. It is these very organisations that struggle with bureaucracy that can least afford this luxury. Whether in our education systems, our police administration or our social security benefits' processes, there will always be a need for communication and information, but it can be vastly reduced.

Chrissie Maher, founder of Plain English Campaign says, "I didn't expect to be waging a war on words for over thirty years. Political correctness, equality and diversity rights, health and safety; all these worthy initiatives have lost the plot when it comes to government-led paperwork and communications. Communicating more doesn't mean communicating better. Say it in plain English - cut the words not the services."

Plain English Campaign will be holding it's annual awards in early July, to recognise the good and bad in public communications. We ask for nominations for any forms or documents that might beat the 4,500 pages of the Disability Essex example.

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