Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Council-speak gibberish cannot hide the truth!


Executive members at Scottish Borders Council will, no doubt, be poring over a Corporate Transformation progress report in the lead up to their meeting next Tuesday when the future of local government service priorities will be under the spotlight.

The problem is that some if not the majority of the elected members may find it difficult to fathom the true meaning of some of the obscure phraseology used by the authors of a document which would have officials of the Plain English Society scratching their heads in sheer disbelief.

The eleven-page main report and four accompanying appendices are all liberally sprinkled with language not normally used in day to day conversation while the documents also display red amber and green symbols to mark the status of each of SBC's 17 "pieces of work" within the Corporate Transformation Programme.

For instance, local electors should be aware that "a CPP Strategic Transport Board was established in May 2014 and has developed and overseen a significant transport change programme. Projects implemented include a Joint Transport Procurement Framework". Eh?

Meanwhile another section of the report tells us under the heading Co-Production : "A short-life working group has been established to progress this work stream with representatives from key
departments across the Council and key partner agencies. An agreed definition of the term co-production has been produced and work is now underway to develop a toolkit/workbook to assist staff to implement the approach and any training requirements will also be identified. It is anticipated the work will be completed by Spring 2016."

No, not even the combined brain power of every member of staff at Not Just Sheep and Rugby could make head nor tail of that one. But you could not make up a quote like the one above.

As regular readers of this humble publication will know, we have been keen to shed our own spotlight on the council's less than glowing record in the field of waste management. Yet another strategy detailing how SBC plans to deliver this most basic but essential of all its services is being worked on as local landfill percentages rise and recycling rates plummet.

We tracked down the brief references to waste management in an appendix which reveals that consultants have been commissioned yet again to advise on the way forward. This, after more than a million pounds was squandered on so-called "experts" during the New Earth Solutions fiasco. One law firm managed to trouser no less than £650,000 for (ahem) top class legal advice before the entire contract with NES had to be abandoned on financial and technical grounds.

The document which will be presented to councillors next week tells how Zero Waste Scotland had "facilitated" a workshop in October "to agree the priorities against which the outputs of the Options Appraisal will be assessed". No, we cannot work that one out either. But there's more of the same: "From this various collection scenarios have been agreed for modelling".Well that's a relief.

The report on waste management is even split into sections headed Milestones Achieved and Milestones To Be Achieved. One of the yet to be achieved milestones is the procurement of another consultant to undertake a strategic environmental assessment for the umpteenth waste management plan. Another gravy train, no doubt.

A previous edition of the blueprint, compiled in 2013, predicted SBC would achieve the council's projected Landfill Allowance Scheme (LAS) allocation up to 2020/21. It went on: "As a result the council is unlikely to face any financial penalties should the Scottish Government decide to reinstate the LAS."

The forecast was for a landfill rate of just 14.7% in 2015/16, "which is well on the way to achieving the Scottish Government's target of only 5% to landfill by 2025."

But now the 2013 version has been shredded, its predictions already in tatters. The Borders LAS figure for 2014/15 was 16,876 tonnes, falling to 16,098 tonnes in 2015/16. However, in reality SBC landfilled 30,666 tonnes in 2014 or 61.4% of the total rubbish collected. Fines for exceeding the limit would have been extremely expensive had they been in force.

Instead of baffling council taxpayers (and councillors) with liberal helpings of gobbledygook, surely it is time to finalise a waste management plan which everyone can understand. The rest of the Corporate Transformation Programme (whatever that is) is also in need of translation into a much simpler form of words. 

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