TSI cops out

The Trading Standards Institute (whose members are responsible for enforcing weights and measures law) has declined to support the UK Metric Association’s campaign for a single, rational system of measurement that everybody understands and uses for all purposes. In response, UKMA has accused the TSI of “an abdication of professional responsibility”.

In a letter to UKMA Chairman, Robin Paice, the TSI’s Chief Executive, Ron Gainsford, wrote “that TSI continues to hold a neutral position on the matter of metric and imperial units of measurement.”  The background to the correspondence is that, as part of the consultation on reviewing Weights and Measures legislation, UKMA invited the TSI to support its submission* to the National Weights and Measures Laboratory. This is the response from the TSI:

“21st February 2008

Dear Mr Paice

Consultation on reform of weights and measures legislation

Further to your letter and enclosures of 14th January. Thank you for advising my Institute of the Association’s position and contribution to the above consultation.

I have shared your papers with my advisers and await their considerations regarding the nature and content of the TSI submission to NWML. You will know however from our previous exchanges that TSI continues to hold a neutral position on the matter of metric and imperial units of measurement. I am sure the Association will continue to understand that our members bear the responsibility of regulating the marketplace in the impartial manner expected of bona fide professionals. As their Institute we remain appropriately sensitive to that imperative.

My kind regards.
Yours sincerely

Ron Gainsford
Chief Executive”

UKMA’s Chairman replied (by email) as follows (slightly edited to omit personal references):

“Dear Mr Gainsford

Thank you for your letter of 21 February … As a brief rejoinder, may I put to you the [the following] points?

The Law Society is not reticent in expressing views and lobbying the Government on changes in the law (e.g. on legal aid). The Association of Chief Police Officers is not slow to comment on problems impinging on law enforcement (e.g. licensing laws). The Royal Town Planning Institute … expresses forthright views on proposed changes to the planning regime (e.g. see http://www.rtpi.org.uk/download/2598/Planning-White-Paper-RTPI-High-Level-Response-final.pdf). Yet solicitors, police officers and town planners have no difficulty in carrying out their duties impartially even if they personally may disagree with the law. There is obviously no contradiction between an Institute expressing a professional view on a policy issue and its members carrying out the law in an impartial manner.

So why is the Trading Standards Institute different? In your letter you talk of “neutrality” – but how can you be “neutral” as between the present dysfunctional and difficult-to-enforce muddle (which must cause considerable problems for your members) and the simplicity and clarity of a single system? Indeed it was [a member of your Council] himself who coined the expression “Every country needs a system of measurement. Nobody needs two systems.”

It is a tragedy for this country that the Institute that could speak with unrivalled authority on the metrication issue appears to lack the courage to do so. I showed your letter to a colleague, who described it as “a complete cop out”. It might be more accurate to describe it as an abdication of professional responsibility.

Perhaps you could ask your Council to look at the matter again.

Yours sincerely

Robin Paice

Mr Gainsford replied on 28 February saying he would advise UKMA of any change in the TSI’s position.

UKMA hopes that the TSI Council will indeed reconsider its position and that it will have the courage to add its weight to the campaign to end the “two systems” measurement muddle in the UK. If it is not prepared to do so, perhaps their spokesperson could explain why the TSI is unique amongst professional institutes in not having the courage to express a professional view on an issue that is central to its work.

MetricViews would also like to hear from individual TSOs (anonymously if they prefer) saying whether they agree or disagree with the Council of their Institute – and why.


*Copies of UKMA’s submission can be obtained by emailing secretary@metric.org.uk. In brief UKMA argued for:

  • bringing advertising and product description fully within the scope of the legislation
  • deregulating draught beer and cider (thus permitting optional metric measures as an alternative to imperial units)
  • amending road signs to show metres, km and km/h
  • all publicly-funded bodies to work toward becoming exclusively metric
  • better enforcement of existing weights and measures laws

17 thoughts on “TSI cops out”

  1. I’ve got to assume their trepidation is based in politics.
    Who would have their head if they spoke up?


  2. TSI say this on their web site (http://www.tsi.org.uk):

    “TSI performs an important and influencing role in engaging with, and making representations to, Government, UK and EU Parliamentary institutions, and key stakeholders in the local government, community, business and consumer sectors, and other regulatory agencies.”

    This does not sound like a body that merely ‘rubber stamps’ Government Policy. Indeed if it compromises their aim to …

    “sustain and improve consumer protection, health and wellbeing, together with the reinforcement of fair markets, facilitating business competitiveness and success.”

    … then it is clearly imperitive that they speak out.

    Surely the move to a single system of measurement (in advertising and product description as well as price labelling) and the simpler more enforceable legislation that would follow is an essential step that would “sustain and improve consumer protection”.

    It is quite shameful that the TSI of all people should not stand up for honesty in measurement that can only come from the exclusive use of the international metric system. How else can they expect to achieve the “reinforcement of fair markets” without it?


  3. To “hold a neutral position on the matter of metric and imperial units of measurement” is to deny the reality that metric units are the legal units of trade in this country, and that imperial units are mostly only allowed as supplementary indications.

    Does the TSI hold a “neutral position” on whether we should have a more clearly defined single system of weights and measures versus the current situation where a muddle of different units are used by different traders in a legal framework which is difficult for TSOs to interpret and enforce?

    The Trading Standards Institute would have been the main stakeholder that the Consultation on Enforcement of Weights & Measures legislation would have been addressed to. It would be interesting to see what they said in their response.


  4. Whatever their feelings on the matter may be I hope it doesn’t affect their obligation to uphold the law and prosecute those who are not using legal scales.

    I hope if and when they do confiscate illegal weighing instruments they either destroy them or have them modified to legal units. Then in order for the offender to get the scales back they have to pay for having them converted. If they don’t pay, the authorities should have the right to sell the scales as a means to recoup the costs of converting them.


  5. So, is it fair to say that Imperial has no legal standing in the UK other than for pints of beer and milk and speed limits and distance signs on road ways?

    Given this, I, too find it quite surprising that TSI would talk about a “neutral” position regarding “Imperial vs metric”. It would appear that framing the situation this way has no reality to it whatsoever.

    The simple fact appears to be that there is one legal system of measurement in the UK, namely, the SI, with only a handful of exceptions. There is no “neutral” position, in point of fact. Time for TSI to actively support the SI and help clear up the remaining muddle.


  6. I also wonder if maybe there are folks “on the inside” of the TSI who might be willing to lobby the organization from the bottom up for a more pro-active stance on behalf of metriction.


  7. Ezra – as you have seen from many submissions here – Imperial, sadly, remains popular. TSI state that they must be neutral presumably because of all the messy dual labeling requiring accuracy.


  8. Yes, but is there a *legal* issue if supplementary indications are wrong, for example?


  9. Further to the original article, the TSI did subsequently make a submission to the Review of W & M legislation, and this can be found at http://www.tsi.org.uk/policy/nwml_wml_reform.pdf

    It generally avoids reference to measurement units, with one exception at top of p.4: “For unit pricing to work, metrication may need to be revisited and re-enforced (sic).”

    How true! If only!


  10. Kinda OT, but I wonder if the destruction of much of the traditional British way of life (perhaps by McDonaldization) has boosted the anti-metric cause?


  11. I note this response from the TSI on page 1 to the question “What is the objective of enforcing the legislation?” :

    “The most important objective of enforcing the legislation is to provide an equal playing field for all businesses and consumers.”

    What better way to provide an equal playing field than to have a *single* consistent system of measurement throughout the country and in all areas of business and commerce, to wit, the SI?


  12. It is good that the TSI at least acknowledge that metrication is relevant to the issue of unit pricing and that it needs to be properly enforced to protect consumers.
    It is unfortunate that they fail to recognise that the scope of weights and measures (W&M) legislation is inadequate and gives rise to some of the gray areas that may well undermine business confidence in their attempts to comply with it.
    An essential aspect that is often missed in these consultations is that laws must be logical and consistent as well as clear and simple if those bound by them are to comply in the right spirit.
    For example under existing law it is alright to advertise say, a “six ounce steak for £2.94” but is not acceptable to express the same offer as “steak 49p/ounce” (unit prices have to be metric or metric plus a supplementary indication) This arises because although they both advertise a price and the information given allows a value for money comparison by weight (albiet imperial) the first version is classed as being descriptive only and does not fall within the scope of the W&M act or the Price Marking Order.
    Product description in advertising does come under the umbrella of other legislation (Trade Descriptions act) but those laws completely ignore units of measurement. Hence the anomaly.

    An alternative might be to ammend legislation controlling advertisment practices so that the UK Units of Measurement regulations (which would require metric in the great majority of cases) was referred to in respect of all measurement data in advertising. Either way the proper and consistent application of a single system of measurement to all transactions would go a long way to settling the unending need for guidance and clarification over what businesses can and cannot do to comply with the law.


  13. I agree with many here, in that the process of enforcing trading standards, by definition, cannot be ‘neutral’! If you enforce the standards that exist (the very purpose of TSI’s existence), then you are not neutral. Metric is, as others have said, the only legal system for most measurements in our world, and the TSI has to acknowledge that.

    It seems to me that much of the anti-metric sentiment is bound up with our ‘traditions’. Tradition IS important in defining what a society is about – but only to the extent that it is a platform on which to build new traditions. A man walking in front of a car travelling at no more than 7 km/h (4 mph), and carrying a red flag, is ‘tradition’. But the practice was abandoned when the costs outweighed the advantages.

    The same is true of most of the ways in which our society functions – we keep them until they become outdated, and the costs start to outweigh the advantages. That includes dealing with two measurements systems – it is no longer cost effective (if indeed it ever was). We need only one system, if only from a cost perspective. Which to choose? With 95% (or more) of the world exclusively metric, the answer to that is pretty obvious!


  14. Although the TSOs have a legal obligation to enforce the law, it is generally accepted that they do on occasions “turn a blind eye�. One typical example was at a parent’s open day at one of our secondary schools. Refreshments were served in the language department with the French room rename “Café France� and the German room renamed “Restaurant Deutschland�. All refreshments were prices in Euros (it was 1998 or thereabouts) and Euros could be “purchased� at the entrance to the Language Department at the rate of €2 = £1. (The “Euros� were slips of paper).

    I hate to think how many regulations were being breached, but many parent actually ordered their refreshments in German or French (thereby testing the pupil’s knowledge of the language). In this case I sincerely hope that the TSO’s would have turned a blind eye since the underlying reason was educating the pupils, not confusing the public.

    If however they turn a blind eye because the local council wants to make a political statement, that is inexcusable. Furthermore, if they fail to prosecute because their budgets would suffer (I believe that fines go to Central Government and the local council may be awarded costs if the prosecution succeeds), then the system is fundamentally unsound.


  15. John’s comments are “spot on”. After all, isn’t that the realization (cost of maintaining the tradition outweighs the benefits of change) that drove the decimalization of the currency?

    Who would go back to Lsd?

    Who would have allowed old and new currency to co-exist side by side with new currency prices listed first and old currency prices listed indefinitely as “supplementary price indications”????


  16. Martin’s point: TSO’s “turn a blind eye”.
    In my area Trading Standards do not give priority to the enforcement of full metric trading regulations, for example fruit and vegetable market stalls. I’m sure this is because of Trading Standard’s limited resources.

    www. simetricmatters.com Philip Bladon


  17. The original NWML consultation discussion paper on enforcement is still available on the NWML website.


    The discussion paper quotes quite scandalous figures for compliance with Weights and Measures legislation; “Of those businesses inspected, 73,877 or 87.64% were compliant”. In other words 1 in 8 businesses are not complying with Weights and Measures legislation.

    Citing the Rogers Review, the discussion paper also states that enforcement of weights and measures is “a non-priority for Local Governments”.



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