Words fail me when it comes to council speak

I LOVE words. I will hold my hand up and confess to being a totally pretentious word geek. I collect quotes and poems and love nothing more than discovering a new word or phrase I can try to bring into everyday use. So you d think that really, as a jour

I LOVE words. I will hold my hand up and confess to being a totally pretentious word geek.

I collect quotes and poems and love nothing more than discovering a new word or phrase I can try to bring into everyday use.

So you'd think that really, as a journalist, I've landed on my feet and got myself the perfect job.

I do, after all, have a career where I basically get to play with words every day.


You may also want to watch:


There is, however, one small fly in this seemingly perfect ointment, which comes in the form of local government.

Because following the goings on of local government can make a wordie like me weep into their dictionary.

Most Read

Local councils have their own language, which I fear I'll never understand, and which by turns confuses and frustrates me, and in certain extreme cases, makes me bang my head gently on the desk in exasperation.

Now, before I get emails and letters informing me of the concept of jargon, I'm aware than any organisation or body is going to have language which outsiders struggle to understand.

But councils are there to run our towns and villages and in my view have a duty to communicate in a way that allows everybody to understand a little bit of what they're going on about.

For those of you who have not had the misfortune to encounter council speak, I've drawn you up a handy three-point guide.

1) Councils never use one word when one hundred will do. This the title of a report presented to North Herts District Council last month:

"Draft supplementary planning document: Vehicle parking provision at new development and associated sustainability appraisal and strategic environmental assessment".

Got any idea what it's going on about? No, neither do I.

2) In complete contrast to this, sometimes a council will decide that less is more, and slip in an array of mind-boggling acronyms.

The following is from a report in a Stevenage Borough Council agenda:

"No comments were received on the SA/SEA so these documents remain as supporting documents to the SPD and do not need to be amended or formally adopted".

I know I can't have it both ways - complain of too many words and then moan about them being shortened - but the trouble with too many acronyms is you spend all your time remembering what they stand for and completely lose the point of the sentence.

Which actually might not be a bad thing in local government, come to think of it.

3) Councils love making up swanky new phrases which are designed to hide the fact that the concepts they describe are at best a bit meaningless and at worse really quite rubbish.

My three personal favourites are "added value", "best value" and "best practice".

Not only does council speak make it difficult to understand what people are talking about, it also, quite honestly winds me up.

I know language is always evolving, and that's fine, it's a natural process.

But council speak is not evolution, it's just downright confusing.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter
Comments powered by Disqus