Wordwatch Towers

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Gobbledegook alert

with 21 comments

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Participatory budgeting.

Interested? Thought not.

Here in Blighty, local councils love gobbledegook. Even when they’re trying to get down with the people, they just can’t stop themselves.

‘Participatory budgeting’ simply means giving people a say in how their tax money is spent locally; more and more councils are introducing the scheme. (Hardly revolutionary, but that’s another topic.)

So, the idea is to interest people; motivate them; get them interested and enthused. And to this end, ladies and gents, we give you (roll of drums) …. participatory budgeting. Ta-daaah… anyone?

Is it really beyond the wit of councils across the length and breadth of the land to come up with something better?

How about: You pay: you say

There. Took me two minutes. A crowd is already forming. I thank you.


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21 Responses

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  1. I’d participate by proposing lower pay for the council personages.

    Michael Farrell

    21/07/2010 at 8:29 am

    • Steady on at the back there. Let’s not get too carried away with the ‘You pay: you say’ scheme. I think it’s more a case of, ‘Do you want us to spend your money on resurfacing this pavement, or do you want us to spend your money on resurfacing this pavement? Tick whichever box applies.’


      21/07/2010 at 8:44 am

      • Well, I’d like you to resurface all of the pavements that need resurfacing, even if that means you take a pay cut.

        In my county, the city manager of one local municipality (“Bell”) earns–ready?–just under $800,000 a year.


        Michael Farrell

        21/07/2010 at 8:59 am

        • Is that ‘earns’ as in ‘earns’ or ‘earns’ as in that’s how much they trouser each year?


          21/07/2010 at 9:02 am

          • LOL @ “trouser.”

            Michael Farrell

            21/07/2010 at 9:37 am

  2. “How about: You pay: you say”

    Put another way – these cuts we’re about to make are your fault!

    @Michael FYI, council staff in the UK are among the worst paid in the public sector.


    21/07/2010 at 10:50 am

    • …and what about the ‘Big Society’? Getting volunteers to do work that was previously done for a wage? Discuss.

      The foot soldiers may be poorly paid, but many chief executives, for example, are vastly overpaid, IMHO. And often receive huge golden goodbyes. (And probably equally gilded ‘hellos’.) Whatever happened to the notion of ‘public service’ as an end in itself?
      See the Telegraph on this.

      How did a few words about gobbledegook segue into this? And other questions.


      21/07/2010 at 11:05 am

  3. “Whatever happened to the notion of ‘public service’ as an end in itself?”

    That would be councillors, who are unpaid except for expenses. When it comes to the administrative arm of public service, it’s a job, like any other.

    “Big Society” is the most blatant con ever foisted on the public, but it will be swallowed whole by far too many people. It’ll never work, though – I’ve spent an awful lot of time working in the voluntary sector and, almost universally, everybody is full of big ideas, but nobody wants to do the work.

    When I was chairman of the Ramblers Association’s Merseyside and North Wales Area in the early 80s, anybody who stood up at meetings and said “You know, we (meaning somebody else), really should…” was promptly elected to make it work. Seemed only fair – the committee members already had plenty to do.

    What I’m waiting for, though, is my personal healthcare budget – I’m sure I can do a better job with the money. However, I can’t see it happening – far too many ways for it to go horribly wrong.


    21/07/2010 at 11:28 am

    • Of course it won’t work. More hot air. More emperor’s new clothes. More diversions from the important issues.

      Even some councillors get paid now, don’t they? Or did I dream that bit?


      21/07/2010 at 11:38 am

      • Hmm… so they do. Though, considering the hours they put in, and they no longer get expenses – as far as I can see the allowance covers those – it seems reasonable. My erstwhile brother-in-law was a councillor, and he was out most evenings, either at council meetings, or working with local organisations, like my local conservation society.

        This is a reply to a question about councillors’ pay here (Wirral):-

        Good Afternoon,

        Thank you for your email below, Councillors receive a basic allowance of £9,171 per year, which covers their general Council duties.

        In addition, some members receive a special responsibility allowance, e.g. Chairs of committees, all of whom are shown on the attached list. (end)

        Note the comma used as full stop!


        21/07/2010 at 11:53 am

  4. By the way Deborah, I know it’s OT, but have you noticed the increasing tendency to use partake and participate as though they are synonymous?

    Latest culprit http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jul/22/hadley-freeman-bristol-palin

    If you post a comment, the one way down at the bottom, from LePendu (because I spend too much time hanging around CiF), is mine.


    21/07/2010 at 3:28 pm

  5. Sorry – forgot – but the Word thesaurus says they are synonymous. Type in partake, it’ll give you participate. Bizarre.


    21/07/2010 at 3:29 pm

    • The OD Online says partake is synonymous with participate – on the partake page, giving them the same etymology – but says nothing of the sort on the participate page, where it also gives a different etymology.

      No wonder people are confused!


      21/07/2010 at 4:12 pm

      • I know I am.

        The ODE says that ‘partake’ is a back-formation from ‘partaker’ meaning a ‘person who takes part’.

        However, ‘participate’, it says, is from Latin ‘participat-‘ meaning ‘shared in’ and from the verb ‘participare’ based on ‘pars’, ‘part’ + ‘capere’ meaning ‘take’.

        The meanings of ‘partake’ are given as: to eat or drink; to join in an activity; to be characterized by.

        The meanings of participate are: to be involved/take part; and (archaic) to have or possess.

        So I suppose there is overlap in the meanings.

        I’ve not thought about those two words before, so thank you!


        21/07/2010 at 4:48 pm

  6. Hello,

    Found your interesting blog through an automatic alert, and thought I’d chip in. I work for the Participatory Budgeting Unit (or PB Unit) for short. Participatory budgeting is a mouthful so I’ll call it PB if thats ok. We’re aware the name PB not being very attention grabbing or obvious. But actually we haven’t come up with a single better alternative.

    Its after all a simply descriptive term – its about participation in Budgets, in all sorts of ways. The all sorts of ways is the problem. PB describes a wide range of experiences.

    To try and get round this we always encourage whoever sets up a local PB process to come up with their own name, and they do. Such as ‘Community kitties, In your Hands, Everyone Counts, Your Decision, Flash the cash, Here the people count…’ etc etc. Each has a subtly different tone depending on the purpose of the specific process.

    Sometimes its to grant public money to local community groups, sometimes to help new people become active citizens, to bring greater public scrutiny over taxes, to invest in new services or redesign how services are delivered.

    You Pay, You Say is one such, and very catchy I agree. But if the purpose is to involve young people, or the poorest in our society, then often they don’t pay, in the sense of paying taxes, so in that case the name wouldn’t fit?

    And the crowds are forming. We’ve seen hundreds of people gathering at some of our local events to talk about budgets (yawn). They all talk commonsense and we’re all about getting away from the jargon – or rather closing the gap between the technical language (goobledygook) spoken in the town hall and the ‘words on the streets’. You can watch videos online of our processes that show this.

    Of course I’m deeply involved in the issue so can get quite pedantic about it, maybe over protective. I’m just glad the term is out there, as that was our project’s first job. The next is to help explain it some more.

    all the best

    Jez Hall

    Jez Hall

    22/07/2010 at 10:44 am

    • Hello, there, Jez — thanks so much for taking the time to comment in such detail and for the very interesting points you make. I do appreciate it. I’m very glad the crowds are forming! I also very much like the idea of asking people to come up with their own names for the various projects.

      As you say, perhaps ‘You pay: you say’ would not always be appropriate or inclusive enough.

      Thanks again for your perspective on this. Best wishes.



      22/07/2010 at 1:03 pm

  7. Indeed, this handy hint about Participatory budgeting, propounded in the attempted remedying of the tendency for local Councils in Britain to produce gobbeldegook that ultimately tends towards progressive diametric asymmetry, cannot be forgotten once learnt. It is a handy hint about gobbledegook produced here in the blogosphere that will be useful to everybody every day of her or his life, that is, assuming he or she has not got a terrible bout of inspirational constipation. It is a handy hint that even a British Prime Minister can find useful in writing tax advice for the country just as much as a beggar begging on the streets, only a beggar might just as well be reading The Times instead of reading Council tax advice. Indeed, this handy hint could prove useful to every Council politician in every Town Hall in every city in the whole of Britain; it is that useful. In fact, it is such a useful technique of governance of such unstable matters as participatory budgeting governance in the environment of home economy, or personal living space, a handy political hint about writing government literature, that is so useful in day to day living, that once learnt of, shall forever be useful to anyone living in the modern world of today; indeed, he or she could not do without knowing it for the sake of knowing it.

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