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MPs slap ICO for bad language

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A select committee report on poor official language has picked on a letter from the Information Commissioner's Office.

The Public Administration Select Committee provided the ICO letter as an example of an official letter which "illustrates how formulaic letter construction can alienate and confuse the reader".

The letter, provided by MP Andrew George, told the recipient in bold type that "Your case has now been closed" in his or her complaint against the Ministry of Justice, but also said the case would be reopened as soon as the recipient sent a copy of the original request for information.

"The perpetrators of this variety of official language often fail to consider adequately who they are writing for," said the committee's report, Bad Language: The Use and Abuse of Official Language, published on 30 November 2009, adding that official letters and forms "can often come across as unsympathetic or overly officious".

A spokesperson for the ICO said it is reviewing the standard letter in question, pointing out that it sometimes needs to ask for additional information from a complainant to make progress with a case.

The report said that management consultants were partly to blame for introducing "sterile jargon" into government, which it said was often used to dress up a simple idea, or "to hide the fact that the speaker or writer doesn't really understand what they are writing or talking about".

"We conclude that bad official language which results in tangible harm – such as preventing someone from receiving the benefits or services to which they are entitled – should be regarded as 'maladministration'," says the report.

"Bad official language deserves to be mocked, but it also needs to be taken seriously. We hope that our conclusions and suggestions will encourage government to mind its language in future."

This article was originally published at Kable.

Kable's GC weekly is a free email newsletter covering the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. To register click here.

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