29 July 2011

Mr Mustard's musings #1 - Plain English

Readers might have gained the understandable impression that all he ever does is criticise Barnet Council. It is not true. Mr Mustard also sends his musings to councillors in advance of committee meetings so that they are aware of what at least one resident thinks. It is no good telling them after the meeting, that is too late. Mr Mustard also writes to officers with suggestions for saving money ( Mr Mustard is a great saver ), improving performance or changing things that seem to be simply wrong.

Mr Mustard has become bored with the language of council documents, although he still reads them closely, as they are both verbose and obtuse. He took a look around London and found that the following councils have all signed up to use Plain English:
Tower Hamlets
Waltham Forest

Mr Mustard therefore wrote to the Chief Executive, Nick Walkley, suggesting that Barnet do the same.

Mr Walkley has now written back to say:

"I am broadly supportive of your suggestion.

I have discussed this matter with the Leader of the Council and intend to bring forward proposals as to how the Council will work to meet Plain English standards. 

I note there is a cost of becoming a corporate member of the Plain English campaign and the Council will therefore need to consider the most cost effective way of achieving the standard.

Kind regards

Nick Walkley
Chief Executive"

Mr Mustard has thanked Mr Walkley for his reply and suggested that the saving by making all reports 10% shorter would be several £thousands a year and so Plain English might be self financing. Barnet Council purchased over 18,000 reams of A4 paper last year.

Mr Mustard also sees that he tried to enlist the support of his ward councillors on the same issue. Councillors Perry & Prentice performed to their usual standard - they did not reply. Councillor Longstaff sent the following email

"I'm all for plain English.

Do you have a particular example I could see?

Cllr. David Longstaff"

Well your own recent email to Mr Mustard is a good example councillor ( see Was it something I said). Nothing could have been plainer. Well done.

Mr Mustard thought he would have a look at last night's report of the rocket propelled Cabinet Resources Committee (CRC). The meeting occupied less time than it took to drive there from High Barnet. Mr Mustard looked at the proposal to sell Church Farmhouse as it says on page 25 of the report pack. On page 26 it is called Church Farm Museum ( sic) & on the map on page 29 it is called Church Farm House Museum. The usual lack of attention to detail was evident. One small point; it cannot now be described as a museum; former museum is the best/worst you can use.

The report could have been shortened to paragraphs 1.1 to 1.3 as the matter only took 3 minutes of committee time. If you have 22 minutes free you can watch the entire meeting as recorded by the Barnet Bugle and Mrs Angry has just posted her report.

Mr Mustard then looked at a sample paragraph to see if he could simplify it. He chose this one.

9.2 The property is bordered to the east with residential uses, the north by Sunny Hill Park, to the west by a Public House and Hendon St Mary Parish Church, to the south Greyhound Hill Road. The site is located on the north side of Greyhound Hill at its junction with Church End. The site is some 0.6 miles from Hendon Central tube station.

Oh dear. Look at the map ( and given the existence of the map this paragraph could have been deleted so that would be a 100% saving on that paragraph ) the residential use to which the report refers is 12/14 Greyhound Hill which are to the west of the site. The public house is to the east. It is the Greyhound, a Young's house, and excellent it is too as the bloggers resources committee which took place there yesterday evening can confirm. That took a lot longer than the CRC. The Church is also to the east. 

It is 0.6 miles from Hendon Central tube station if you can fly; otherwise it is nearly a mile. Barnet Council are turning into estate agents. Sorry to insult you with such a comparison estate agents.

Mr Mustard has continued doubts that councillors read the agenda papers as surely if they did they would have picked up these sloppy errors and mentioned them at the meeting or beforehand and had the record corrected for the benefit of all.

Be assured readers that there are still plenty of examples of profligate waste to come. Mr Mustard has not gone soft. He does try to be even-handed.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

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