Avoid gobbledygook to empower voters, say MSPs

MSPs have backed a a call to rid public documents of 'gobbledygook' language. Picture: Ian Rutherford
MSPs have backed a a call to rid public documents of 'gobbledygook' language. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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PUBLIC bodies must avoid “gobbledygook” language if legislation designed to get more people involved in the community is to be a success, MSPs have warned.

Concerns have been raised that the kind of terminology used by national and local government could be a barrier to the success of the Scottish Government’s Community Empowerment Bill.

The bill’s aims include helping communities to take control of land and buildings, giving people more say about public services and improving allotment provision.

In a new report, Holyrood’s local government and regeneration committee backed the legislation but asked the Scottish Government to amend the language used throughout the bill.

Committee convener Kevin Stewart said: “During our consideration of the bill we heard expressions used like ‘third-sector interface’ and ‘partnership framework’ when talking about community involvement. Language like this can act as a barrier for people getting involved. For the bill to truly empower, public authorities must avoid ‘gobbledygook’ phrases which cannot be easily understood.”

The committee also called for public authorities to be more open to communities setting the agenda and recommended additional support to help people access the new powers being proposed.

Mr Stewart added: “During our consideration of the bill we met with folks in communities across the country who said time and again that they wanted to be more involved in the decisions being made about them.

“There can be no doubt this bill is generally a welcome boost towards putting power in the hands of communities.

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“However, for a bill which is designed to empower, we were struck by the requirement that only groups with a written constitution could submit a participation request. This seems out of step with the whole ethos of the bill.”

MSPs also want to see community planning partnerships, which bring together public, private and community representatives, actively seek more input from local people.

Holyrood’s Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee raised some concerns about the aspect of the bill that would give communities more opportunity to buy land for the benefit of local people.

Convener Rob Gibson said: “The devil’s in the detail and some fundamental issues are still to be addressed. For example, the government is yet to pin down an agreed definition of ‘eligible land’; which community bodies can apply to buy; and what kind of support will be in place to help communities fulfil their aspirations.”

The committee also called for greater clarity on the potential costs for communities and landowners.

Mr Gibson said: “The committee agrees that the government’s proposed changes have the potential to bring equality of opportunity for Scotland’s urban and rural communities while balancing this with the need to protect the rights of landowners.

“However, it is vital that the government addresses the detailed issues which were highlighted in evidence so that Scotland’s communities can be properly supported in their ambitions to bring social, economic and environmental benefits to their areas, and to future generations.”

STRAIGHT TALKING FROM PLAIN ENGLISH CAMPAIGN

“High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning experience.”

Means: Children need good schools if they are to learn properly.

“If there are any points on which you require explanation or further particulars we shall be glad to furnish such additional details as may be required by telephone.”

Means: If you have any questions, please phone.

“Posters and leaflets issued by the Central Office of Information, the Department of Health and Social Security and other authoritative bodies are usually displayed in libraries, but items of a disputatious or polemic kind, whilst not necessarily excluded, are considered individually.”

Means: Thank you for your letter asking permission to put up posters in the library. Before we can give you an answer we will need to see a copy of the posters to make sure they won’t offend anyone.