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Councils ignore plain English guidelines

You may recall recent Government guidelines that made plain English ‘mandatory for all of Gov.UK’. Well, it seems that ‘mandatory’ means different things to different councils.

A recent independent report looked closely at up to 100 pages on 191 local authority websites. The findings suggest that 82% of the information checked is ‘confusing readers by failing to use plain English’.

 Only 2 of the 191 websites checked had no more than 5% of sentences with more than 25 words, a key part of the guidelines.

The five easiest-to-read websites were: South Tyneside, Eastbourne Borough, London Borough of Hackney, Durham and Huntingdonshire.

The rogues’ gallery included Sevenoaks, Worcester, Chiltern, the Isles of Scilly and Malvern Hills. The latter offender apparently has a website on which 31% of the sentences are more than 25 words long.

The immediate question is: why are those failing councils ignoring Government demands? It’s not as though the guidelines were there to be looked at and either followed or not. They were instructions, not ideas.

We know better than anyone how much councils tend to indulge bad habits. For decades we’ve mocked the worst of council gobbledygook and jargon, and we’ve never run short of examples. But we assumed that the Government demands might improve standards.

Well, they don’t seem to have made much difference. And it remains to be seen what, if anything, the Government will do about it. Will they punish those continuing to ignore their ‘mandatory’ measures?

Perhaps those at the very bottom of the performance list need our help? Perhaps they don’t have the staff that can write clear and comprehensive information? They know where to find us – and just in case they don’t we’ll be contacting them to offer our services. We’ll let you know how we – and they – get on.

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