Shall we do coterminous stakeholder engagement?

Civic leaders in Northampton have admitted they often fail to understand official council documents because they are filled with gobbledegook and management speak.

The Local Government Association, which represents councils, sent a warning to all its members this week pointing out many people could not understand council reports filled with terms such as "cohesive communities", "conditionality" and "sustainable communities".

The group's chairman, Margaret Eaton, said: "The public sector must not hide behind impenetrable jargon and phrases. Why do we have to have 'coterminous, stakeholder engagement' when we could just 'talk to people' instead?"

The call has been welcomed by councillors in Northamptonshire, who have admitted they often struggle to understand their own council's papers.

Councillor Penny Flavell (Con, St Crispin) attacked Northampton Borough Council's cabinet last month for 'nodding through' a document titled A New Approach to Neighbourhood Working, which she claimed made no sense.

Yesterday, she said: "I think a lot of the reports we see are absolutely appalling, they're not in an understandable language. The people who write them seem to be set in a world of 'council speak' and very often, they just don't make sense.

"I can truthfully say that some of the reports that have come through, I've read them once, then I've read them again and I just don't understand them."

She was backed by fellow borough councillor, Councillor Christopher Malpas (Con, Billing), who last month criticised another council document for being written like The Chronicles of Narnia. He said: "A lot of the reports just don't make sense and I think some of them are actually worded to confuse people."

Council buzzwords such as "partnership working" and "joined-up thinking" have also come in for criticism.

But Northampton Borough Council's cabinet member for community engagement, Councillor Brendan Glynane (Lib Dem, Delapre) said councils were doing their best to be understood.

He said: "We try to make sure our reports are understandable because unless we make the business of the council understandable then people just aren't turned on."

Councillor Jim Harker (Con, Kettering Rural), the leader of Northamptonshire County Council, which has its own "taste the strawberry" improvement campaign, said he also tried to make things clear to the public. He added: "I think councils do use too much jargon, so I'm going to make a special effort to see if we're using too much and if we are, we'll cut it down."