Wednesday, 10 February 2010

More on jargon

Not long back after sitting in the public gallery through a rather epic meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council. I've mentioned before the way in which official reports tend to over-use certain words, and we had another example today when the council discussed its "Supporting People Operational Plan".

The title was ominous enough to start with. Plaid's Cllr Emlyn Dole asked if someone could define the phrase 'floating support', which he said was used at least 76 times in the document. (I haven't checked his count, but on a quick flick through, it looks like an entirely plausible statistic). This support, whatever it is, comes in a variety of guises, including something called 'low level floating support', which, as Emlyn pointed out, sounds like it might no longer be afloat at all, even if not yet entirely sunk.

The Director of Social Care, Health, and Housing was first up with an attempt at an explanation. He assured the meeting that the term was one which was well-used and understood in the 'supporting people community'. I concluded that he was probably trying for his first mention in Private Eye, but that he hadn't exactly spread a great deal of light.

The Chief Executive followed, telling the meeting that the primary audience for the report was not the ordinary reader, but the civil servants in the Assembly Government. This is the sort of terminology they use, and if the council didn't use the same terms, the Government might not understand the report, and might withhold funding. He went on to say - and I paraphrase only slightly - that if the council wrote reports in plain language, they'd only have to explain the terms they used in jargon before submitting them to the Government.

Is it me?

PS - the explanation eventually forthcoming was that 'floating support' is support which is not 'fixed'. So now we all know.


Robert said...

Floating support was used when I needed help after breaking my back, they said we have a nursing team which is floating, we will put you down on the file to receive floating help, sadly it did not float my way.

I then was told my spinal cord was badly damaged and my bowel and bladder had failed, so i was told by the council help would be carried out for me, by a floating team of carers, again they seemed to have sunk before they got to me.

It like the word used by accountants and minister. "In real Terms" this normally means nope sorry it will never happen.

John Dixon said...


I agree. My post was somewhat 'tongue-in-cheek', concentrating on the linguistic wriggling of officialdom. But Emlyn went on to make exactly the point which you raise - whether the support was going to be available to those who need it at the point at which they need it.

The answer he got was not exactly encouraging to me. Part of it consisted of a statement that when one person no longer needed the support, it could 'float off' to another person. That not only failed to answer the question as to whether the levels of support would be sufficient to meet all the needs - it half suggested that they would not be.