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‘Pusillanimous shrinking from responsibility’ at Suffolk CC

One of the things I enjoy about Caroline Page’s blog is her regard for the English language. As a Lib Dem County Councillor, she regularly reports on what is happening at SCC.

In her November report she draws attention a the use of the passive in information she was given at a briefing before this week’s cabinet meeting.

It was about the divestment of most of the highways service to a private company on the basis that “a fully integrated service model is considered to have the greatest potential to drive out savings and efficiencies whilst protecting the resilience of the service”.

She comments:

At the briefing for this I asked who this passive was referring to – eg. who it was who considered this option to have the ‘greatest potential’? I was told it was ‘the market’.I asked who ‘the market’ was? The answer was ‘a number of large and medium-size private companies’  with an interest in making a profit from this option.

I leave you to draw your own conclusions as to how disinterested this ‘market’ advice was. I would also like to remind you of the success of many past privatisations of public services in terms of customer service and cost. The railways, for example.

R.W.Burchfield, editor of the third edition of Flowler’s Modern English Usage , quotes a previous editor, Sir Ernest Gowers, on the use of the impersonal passive:

It often amounts to a pusillanimous shrinking from responsibility.

Gowers was a senior civil servant who wrote his best known book, Plain Words, at the request of the Treasury. I wonder if there is a copy in the library at Endeavour House. If not, there are plenty available on Amazon, new and second hand.


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