The HelpGov blog has been a bit quiet recently as I’ve got distracted by other things. But as I write, it has just been viewed 40,000 times. So now seems as good a time as any to share my most-read posts with an eager world. Some may surprise you: some certainly surprised me.

None of my recent rants about arguably the most important current issue facing the UK – the forthcoming Scottish independence referendum – appear in my top ten. Sadly for an indifferent readership, I cannot promise I won’t write again about that subject again. I’m currently mulling over an effort on the positive case for Scotland staying in the UK. It may appear soon. In the meantime, enjoy the HelpGov top ten countdown …

No. 1 The new Civil Service Competency Framework. I smell…

What I smelt last year was either pretentious nonsense or (excuse me) shite, depending on how delicate my sensibilities were at the time. Lots of people – presumably many of them civil servants – seemed to agree and still do, judging by the number of continuing page views.

No. 2 Ten things PowerPoint presenters shouldn’t say – but do

… or at least did in 2010, from the pathetic ‘Where do I put the memory stick in?’ to ‘It’s all in the hand-out anyhow.’  Has anything changed?

No. 3 [An old] top 10 countdown: and the all-time No. 1 is…

A bit of a cheat this one since it was reporting a much earlier summary of HelpGov’s most popular page views. The No.1 at the time was an article about, wait for it, wheelie bins, a phrase huge numbers of web users used to search for at the time. If you’re a serious wheelie bin aficionado don’t click through to check this one out. You will be disappointed.

No. 4 101 uses …

No, not of a dead cat (very old book) but of Post-it notes. I ran out of puff at No. 12. Perhaps I should re-visit this classic office tool. All ideas for Nos. 13-101 will be gratefully received.

No. 5 Government web sites can be bad for your health

Well, they could be at the time and some still are. This was a rant at the dire DirectGov site, which after the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition came into power was replaced by the excellent www.gov.uk portal – simple, friendly and efficient. Which only goes to show that Messrs Cameron and Clegg hang on every word HelpGov utters. So there.

No. 6 The jargon bin

My continuing attempt to document how mainly public sector organisations and people feel they have to speak and write in order to sound, well, long-winded and pompous, from the euphemism of the ‘ability spectrum’ to the economists’ horror of ‘zero sum’ and all alphabetical points in between. So if as a cohort you’re into optimal end-games and want to stay ahead of the curve, do visit this curated collection. And let me know of any other nonsense you come across.

No. 7 The Singapore legal system and the strange case of Professor Tey Tsun Hang

Not quite HelpGov’s standard fare but I’ve had a long time interest in the wonderfully-successful but not quite democratic Republic of Singapore, where I lived for three years in my youth. This is a report of an alleged sex abuse case that wasn’t quite what it seemed at the time – or quite what the government of the country wanted its people to believe. I guess lots of the readers of this were from Singapore. They certainly won’t have read some of the detail in their own (government-owned) press.

No. 8 Civil Service reform

I wrote this about nine months before my blast at the UK civil service competency framework – see No. 1 above. I was sceptical – still am – about the then-proposed performance management and appraisal system for civil servants. The competency framework, and the popularity of what I said about it, makes me think I was justified in my scepticism. Any civil servants (or ex-civil servants if you were in the ‘bottom 10%’) out there who think I was right?

No. 9 UK government uses social media to help quell riots: Directgov strikes again

You can see I didn’t like the old Directgov web site (see also No. 5 above). As the government’s then main web site its response to the riots in various English cities in August 2011 was … pathetic. I also highlighted the government’s inept use of Twitter on the same subject. Let’s hope things are better next time there’s an emergency that social media could help inform.

No. 10 New York Public Library Rules OK…

I suspect that like ‘wheelie bins’ (see No. 3 above) this is a post that got lots of views because of its title rather than its content. If you really needed practical information about the wonderful New York public library this, sadly, was not the place to come. It didn’t do much more than record a campaign to stop big budget cuts to the library and, at the margins, try to give the campaign a little extra publicity. I never did check what happened but I’m sure big cuts were made as they seem to have been made to libraries throughout the UK too. So easy to cut library budgets, isn’t it? After all, librarians by and large aren’t militant protesters. And sadly the temper of the times seems to be against spending public money that doesn’t immediately produce measurable outcomes … now there’s one for the jargon bin.

Note: given the passage of time not all the links in each of the ten posts will work. Never mind, you’ll still get the drift of what I was on about.

 

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The Scottish independence referendum is bringing to prominence a whole new area of special use of language. Here are some words I’m getting fed up with.

Afraid – see ‘Feart’

Bias – allegation made, usually without any firm evidence, about the news coverage of the BBC in the belief that ‘No’ campaigners are given an easy ride and ‘Yes’ campaigners are unfairly given a hard time. The allegation often means no more than the views of a favoured politician are subjected to legitimate challenge. The same accusation is also made about Scottish TV and (sometimes with more justification) about the printed media, Scottish and English.

Bullying – any mention of potentially negative consequences of independence by UK politicians, even if backed up by evidence and even if the politicians concerned are Scottish.

Feart – Scots for ‘afraid.’ Glib characterisation by many who want independence about those who don’t, whatever their reasons.

Negative – any reason given against independence.

Project Fear – ‘Yes’ code for ‘No’ campaign, whatever arguments it advances.

Scaremongering – another code word for any mention of potentially negative consequences of independence even if backed up by evidence, although not confined to statements by UK politicians.

Unionist – literally, a definition of anyone who wants to maintain the union (any sort of union) of the UK. Often used to imply a right wing or reactionary viewpoint because of its association with the ‘Conservative and Unionist’ party, much less so by any association with Ulster Unionism.

Westminster – as in ‘parties’ or ‘government.’  Shorthand for United Kingdom parties or government. Used to imply a whole range of characteristics – indifference, irrelevance, hostility, distance, separation and otherness – although ‘Westminster’ government is also UK and therefore Scottish government.  Sometimes shortened to ‘WM.’

Other contributions by sharp-eyed readers to the lexicon are welcome and will be added with due acknowledgement. Comments that do no  more than point out that I have a particular point of view are likely to remain unpublished, especially if abusive.


I noticed today that Police Scotland are looking for the idiot who scrawled this graffito (HelpGov is nothing if not grammatically correct) on the façade of Aberdeen City Council’s headquarters, the wonderful and newly-restored Marischal College.

The ‘Ye’ bit suggests the perpetrator aspires to at least some learning and that the admonition may be a quotation from somewhere historical. But a Google search, while throwing up various biblical possibilities, didn’t recognise the actual words.

Given that this is Scotland and there’s an independence referendum next year (you hadn’t heard?) I toyed with the scribbler having a national or nationalistic purpose. Notice I don’t say which nation, so no rude comments please. They’ll only be blocked.

There are also numerous local possibilities about his concerns ranging from a new ring road to the state of our main shopping street to a disputed roundabout to new bus lane cameras to…

Perhaps The Idiot might like to submit the answer. I’ll be happy to publish it complete with his name.

To my surprise, my tweet on the subject was almost instantly re-tweeted by an English council chief executive (thanks @Relhyde) and that presumed fellow-feeling got me thinking about what it is that councils have not yet done as they ought.

Here’s my top list of things councils have not yet done as they ought.

  • Ye have not yet kept all the people happy all the time
  • Ye have not yet proven that democracy is not merely a good system of government but, yea, it is perfect
  • Ye have not yet squared every problem that doth present itself as a circle
  • Ye have not yet overcome an ever decreasing treasury in order to meet all demands upon your services
  • Ye have not yet insinuated yourself into the mind of every citizen that doth own a dog in order that canine defecation in your public places is entirely unknown
  • Ye have not yet conducted all your affairs in a state of complete harmony, unlike every other public institution in this United Kingdom of ours
  • Ye have not yet understood that ye are simultaneously too large and too small, too rich and too poor, and too arrogant and too supine
  • Ye have not yet reversed climate change, increased the longevity of your citizens’ lives, eliminated social exclusion nor solved any of the other small issues that are entirely reasonably laid at your door

Footnote: I have just read that another scrawl appeared in the same hand overnight on the nearby Council Town House – Weilders [sic] of Power Beware. Well that blows my theory about the perpetrator ‘s education.


Go away, you annoying addictive bird

  1. 0800 check 203 incoming tweets received overnight. Time taken including reading/replying/commenting on/following interesting links – 23 minutes
  2. 0823 return to top of Twitter stream to check 31 tweets received in last twenty-three minutes. Time taken including reading/replying/commenting etc. – 7 minutes
  3. 0830 return to top of Twitter stream to check 9 tweets received in last seven minutes. Time taken including reading/etc. – 2 minutes
  4. 0832 break for breakfast. Time taken – 30 minutes
  5. 0902 check Twitter stream before starting work. Read/etc/etc 41 tweets received in last half hour. Time taken – 6 minutes
  6. 0908 work for an hour avoiding temptation to look at Twitter. Time taken – 60 minutes
  7. 1008 coffee break. Time taken – 10 minutes
  8. 1018 before resuming work read/etc/etc 112 tweets received  since 0908. Time taken – 10 minutes
  9. 1028 return to top of Twitter stream to check 19 tweets received in last ten minutes. Time taken including reading/replying/commenting etc. – 3 minutes

Well, that’s the day nicely filled.


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 12,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 20 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.


Daniel Nest is a blogger of Ukrainian origin who explains succinctly

I do humour posts and am very affordable.

He wrote recently about the weird search terms used to access his Nest Expressed blog. Inspired by this I checked the strange searches that led some readers to the HelpGov blog. I have tried to understand what ten of these benighted souls might be looking for…

Upside down wheelie bin

Who would want information about an upside down wheelie bin? It’s easy. Bin upside down, waste on ground. End of story.

Business card showing degree example

Ah, business cards with qualifications on. How I hate them. Joseph Soap, M.B.E., H.N.D., B.Sc. (Hons.), M.A., M.Phil., FBACS, MOPIE, ABUM. What’s all that about then? Insecurity I think. The weirdest I saw was the leader of a council I worked for who had no academic qualifications. No shame in that. But as he reached the end of his career he received two honorary Ph.D.s, one from each of the two local universities. So on official correspondence he went within a short time from Cllr. Bob Middleton to Cllr. Dr. Robert Middleton Ph.D. (true story).

Waste-2-value swine

I am completely bemused by the meaning of this phrase. Anyone able to help? The best I can guess is that it’s the inaccurate translation of some deadly insult in a foreign language – ‘You waster-value swine.’ Or maybe it’s a genetically modified pig that produces less waste than the traditional porker so that even the ‘oink’ can be used.

Twitter logo

Why would anyone visit the HelpGov blog to find the Twitter logo? Why not attempt the enormously complex task of visiting Twitter, or even more daring, Google Images?

Pictures of bad teeths not being brushed for weeks

I can assure readers that no matter how hard they look they will not find pictures of bad teeths on this site, although for anyone willing to search there is a middling-to-old story of waste in the NHS involving free but inappropriate toothbrushes for young children. No disgusting pictures of poor oral hygiene though.

Snow happy people

A.k.a. children. Everyone else longs for the warmth of summer.

Solicitores full size

It is well known that solicitores come in small, medium and full sizes, the same as barristeres and lawyeres, but not on this site.

Desain taman kota

Seseorang searchin di Indonesion untuk ‘desain Taman kota’ datang di situs HelpGov. Saya terkesan. Aku tidak tahu mengapa, tapi aku terkesan. Thank you Google Translate

“Meaning of” tressangle

There is no meaning of tressangle unless it’s the angle my daughter’s hair assumes after she subjects it to its regular dose of TRESemmé

Happy birthday in filipino language

Masaya kaarawan – easy!

That’s all. Happy Christmas or as they say in the States to cover all possibilities and none, Happy Holidays.


Apparently as the result of a spoof phone call by two Australian disc jockeys to a hospital in London a nurse has died, assumed as I write to have committed suicide, ashamed at having inadvertently allowed the disc jockeys to talk to a colleague about the health of a member of the British Royal family.

A Google search just now for ‘2day fm royal prank’ returns 261,000 results, #royalprank seems to be the Twitter hashtag to use, and there’s very little that can be said about the specifics of the case that hasn’t already.

But the use of the word ‘prank’ in the circumstances is interesting.

2Day FM and its owners have made various statements over the last few days.

On Saturday, before he became more remorseful under the pressure of both listeners and advertisers withdrawing their support, Rhys Holleran, the chief executive of Southern Cross Austereo, 2Day FM’s owners, was quoted as saying

As a craft in radio, [prank calls] have been going for decades and decades…They’re not just part of one radio station or one network or one country, they’re done worldwide.

As usual, the Oxford English Dictionary is enlightening

‘prank.’A malicious trick; a wicked deed; a deception or scheme intended to harm, a hoax. In later use chiefly… A practical joke; a lark; a capriciously foolish act … usu. with modifying word indicating the negative connotations.

Got it? ‘Malicious…wicked…deception…intended to harm…capriciously foolish…negative connotations.’

The use of the word ‘craft’ for prank calls sticks in my gullet, but on one thing Holleran is right.

These calls are widespread, mostly on the more inane sort of shows hosted by the more inane sort of disc jockeys on radio stations similarly inclined. On the occasions I’ve heard them they are usually perpetrated to the accompaniment of exaggerated smug laughter of the ‘How clever I am’ variety.

A prank always has at least a tinge of cruelty about it and is designed to hurt and humiliate, maybe but not always through what passes for humour.

I’m up for actions that speak truth to power and its pomposity but as far as pranks go, count me out.