Headlines: October 7th, 2008

Staff at the London Borough of Harrow have been given new guidance on using plain English and avoiding jargon when dealing with inquiries from local people. A review of language used by the authority has so far identified ‘seven sins of jargon’ and come up with plain English alternatives in each case.

The council has unveiled a new service standard for the way it deals with phone calls, emails and visits from the public. Councillor Paul Osborn, Harrow’s portfolio holder for communication, said all organisations used jargon to some degree but councils were seen as being among the worst offenders. “We are now working to ensure that council terms, which can include all sorts of baffling acronyms, don’t get used when we talk to the public. Our residents want to hear plain speaking and that is what we’ll deliver,” he said.

The ‘seven sins’ include School Crossing Patrollers who will now be known as lollipop men or women, Civil Enforcement Officers, who will once again be referred to as traffic wardens and terms such as Stakeholder Engagement and Public Realm which will now be deascribed as ‘asking people what they think’ and ‘open areas like streets, parks or pavements.’

The council will use national Customer Care Week to set out the standard of service local people can expect in future. The pledges were agreed after the authority asked a panel of residents about their experiences of dealing with the council. As well as using the new plain English terms staff will be expected to answer 90 per cent of telephone calls within five rings, or 30 seconds, e-mails will be acknowledged within 24 hours and personal callers to council offices will be seen within 15 minutes.