IT may often seem like council bureaucrats are talking a foreign language – but perhaps it’s just as well they aren’t.

For the translation services recommended by York’s leaders have been turning the most mundane of messages into barely-comprehensible gobbledegook.

Social inclusion experts have criticised council chiefs for advising visitors to their website to use internet-based programmes such as Google Translate or Babel fish to interpret official prose – despite the systems often being unreliable.

The systems are recommended as an alternative to requesting formal translations from the council, although the website does warn that translations can be unreliable.

Japanese people wanting advice on how to deal with an infestation of fleas or wasps, for instance, would instead be offered defence against “the chisel and the sparrow drumstick”.

Various other messages, on a range of issues from transport, housing, tourist attractions, also lose their meanings when put through the programmes.

Rita Sanderson, director of York Racial Equality Network, said: “Quite clearly, unless you know how to use the system, it’s not something we would recommend.”

York disability and social inclusion campaigner Lynn Jeffries said: “Any credible organisation would never suggest using web-based translation services as they are notoriously poor.”

Coun Nigel Ayre, the council’s IT champion and chair of its social inclusion working group, said the authority was committed to making its information widely accessible.

He said the translation section was prominent on the council’s site and said many other councils also suggested using Babel fish. But he added: “Technology, as all things, is fallible. The initial steer from the website is to ask residents to contact the council by phone, email or letter. The online option is included as an additional service and there is a clear indication that translations may not be accurate.” He said rather than “throwing the baby out with the bath water” he would talk with council officials about the best way forward.

The proper version...

City of York Council provide a pest control service for ants, bed bugs, bees, cockroaches, fleas, mice, rats and wasps. Request pest control services online.

The translated version...

The city of the yoke national assembly the ant, the bed insect, the bee and the cockroach, the chisel, the mouse, offers noxious insect extermination service to rut/rat and the sparrow drumstick.