Here's an idea. Whenever I see an example of poor business writing, I will put in up on this forum, and on my own blog. If you could also do the same, we will gradually generate a 'name and shame' library. In time (perhaps 100 to 200 years), the library will grow to a point where we will have identified all of the worst cases of business writing on the globe, and we will be able to eradicate it from our world, once and for all. (I can dream, can't I?)
Today’s masterclass on How To Obscure One’s Meaning is provided courtesy of Bristol City Council and their Business Rates team.
I have the dubious privilege of owning a small office building in Bristol, and I recently came across something called the ‘Small Business Rate Relief’ scheme. This is a discount scheme through which I may be able to pay slightly less for my business rates if the Rateable Value of my office is below a certain value.
I duly contacted the City Council and have received a two-sided application form. One side attempts to explain the scheme, and the other provides areas where I need to complete some details in order to make an application for the discount. Nothing remarkable about it so far.
Needless to say, the form is a local authority form, and I would not be expecting the best quality design or production values (I would rather my tax pound was spent on schools and roads than on glitzy design skills, in any case). But the language used on the form is worryingly Dickensian.
“In accordance with the Small Business Rate Relief scheme“, I am told, “relief may be granted...” and so on. “In accordance with”? Nobody actually says that in real life, do they?
Similarly, there is a section which explains (and I use that word cautiously) that “No account shall be taken of any property the ratepayer occupies in England where the rateable value of each such property shown in the local non-domestic rating list for that day is not more than £2,599“. I become exhausted when I read this, perhaps because of the double negative but equally due to the length of the sentence. I find myself glazing over before I reach the full-stop and, worse still, I fear a nose bleed would not be far away if I were to attempt seriously to understand what is being said.
Maybe that is where the problem lies. Nothing is in fact being said. It is being written, and the spoken word is not being used. Sadly it is also being written by someone who has read too many council missives and does not understand the way people actually use language these days.
This probably explains why, just before signing the form, I am asked to declare that “I confirm that the properties listed above are the only rating assessments (see note  below) in England occupied by (insert name of ratepayer).”
Now it seems that I no longer occupy an office but in fact work out of a ‘rating assessment’. Whatever one of those is.
Government bodies and councils are notorious for crappy communication. Steeped in a culture of bureaucratic bullshit, where entire departments are run in the passive voice.
My personal bug bear is any communication coming from HMRC [shudders].