While my NL colleagues are reporting hard law and dealing with lots of important stuff, with so much more to come, I have but a mere puff to offer for a Friday afternoon. It’s about the new government website to which departments, including DCLG, have (or are) migrating. It’s just woeful and has really annoyed the NL team – I’m up for it to be put on the naughty step but have neither the writing skill nor the jpeg to do so. In the current climate when so many more litigants in person are anticipated, it’s really important that all the information on it is right, up-to-date and accurate; and at least some of it is just not right and/or misleading.
It’s fair to say that I loved the old DCLG website. It was all there and I knew where to find it. The search function was excellent. I don’t have NL or Francis’ technical skill, so I need something pretty basic, intuitive, up-to-date and accurate. Because at heart I’m an academic, I also need lots of information, and the fuller the better. That’s equally true for both documents and housing statistics. The latter, I suspect, are equally important to lawyers not just for general interest but also for expanding on more technical points. There was a lot of political guff on the DCLG website, especially when Shapps and Rooker were housing ministers (to the extent that a new adjective was created – shappstastic – which had a limited popularity) but you came to expect that and some of it was just, well, laughable.
Now, the new government website might, in principle, be a good idea. I can see that the collection of relevant government departments together might add to a holistic policy analysis and cross-departmental working, as well as transparency. But, not like this. It’s a complete disaster. The DCLG housing stuff is hard to find and the search function is awful. Add to that the information available appears to have gone through some sort of dumbing down process. Francis first alerted me to this dumbing down last week. But, it’s not just dumbing down; Francis also pointed out rightly that some of the information is wrong and/or misleading and/or provides some wrong ideas to the casual reader. If one wanted further information to clarify some of the issues, a reader would be equally non-plussed (except you lot who will always come here looking). Francis drew attention to these links by way of examples:
I’m not just being a bit lazy in not looking for others; but also a bit fearful. What in god’s name will it say about homelessness/allocations or “affordable tenancies” or eligibility (!) or security of tenure or mortgage evictions.
Of course, information has to be provided in fairly simple, transparent terms, but housing law isn’t really that simple and transparent at the best of times (note to policy makers and website designers: it would have been better if the Law Commission’s Renting Homes work had been implemented; but we can whistle for that – in England at any rate).
And then there’s the stats. There’s stuff missing, less is now being collected (austerity cuts – if you want some stats that used to be free, you now have to pay), they’re difficult to find; and we are left in a rather uncomfortable position that when we want to know something, or evaluate a government programme, or just raise an issue, the data may well not be there.
Now that’s just not transparent government.