Britain fights gobbledygook -- true to form

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

The British government has declared war on gobbledygook in official forms, and already casualties litter the battlefield.

A review of forms produced by government departments has revealed that two billion are thrust under the noses of British citizens every year. That's 36 for every man, woman, and child, and most of them are verbose, legalistic, and confusing.

From the morass of about 100,000 different forms in existence, investigators selected 93. After close study it was decided to withdraw 26 and redesign 50.

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The total saving on this operation alone is expected to be (STR)300,000 a year (about $550,000).

Those who fill out forms will probably be more interested in the fact that life for them will be easier. A check revealed that one third of all forms contain errors.

The aim of Lady Young, head of the government's new Department of Management and Personnel, is to wind up with fewer forms and simpler formats.

Some 5 million fewer forms will be issued in Britain next year. Once the ministerial lawnmower has passed over other government departments bigger savings will be made.

According to Lady Young, one of Margaret Thatcher's most vigorous associates for many people, official forms are ''the face and voice of government.''

In too many cases the face is intimidating and the voice a source of frustration.

In its original wording one form on capital gains tax said: ''where a dwelling house is used partly as living accommodation and partly for business purposes, the exemption applies only to that part of the dwelling house which is used as a private residence, that is to say the living accommodation, it is therefore necessary to apportion the gain which accrues when mixed premises of this kind are disposed of.''

The form has been changed to ''do I lose any of the exemption if I use part of my home for a business? Yes. You will not be exempt on the gain from the part used only for business purposes.''

Lady Young's campaign to shake the tares out of the wheat in official forms is that her survey into governmental gobbledygook weighs more than nine and a half pounds, is four inches thick, and contains hundreds of thousands of words.

But Lady Young is unabashed. She wants people to be able to understand official forms. And millions of man-hours are expected to be saved in government departments and private homes as a result of her campaign.

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