End Britain’s Great Imperial Rip-Off

In these uncertain times, the spending power of the pound in our pockets seems to be decreasing by the day, making it high time, in my view, to end the Great Imperial Rip-Off, and save British consumers from the cost of maintaining imperial weights and measures.

Contrary to common myth, propagated by the opponents of change, retaining imperial measurements actually costs every one of us money, money which I for one would rather spend on something rather more useful.

Think the cost of motoring is too high in the UK? Part of the reason is that the UK has a unique specification for speedometers and odometers, which costs the industry millions of pounds each year. Do the motor manufacturers each subsidise the cost of the UK dashboards? Of course not, the costs are passed on to the British consumer , meaning cars in the UK are more expensive than they are in our neighbouring countries. If the UK changed to km/h, those savings would be passed onto British motorists.

Of course, you can always import a car or motorbike from abroad to save money, and 40,000 of us do each year. But if you do it’ll cost you anywhere from £100 to £300 to change your speedometer to show MPH. At an average of £200 apiece, that adds up to a whopping £8 million from the pockets of British motorists every single year, which is more than it cost Ireland to change every single one of their speed limit signs to km/h in 2005.

Another money-saving tip in these inflationary times is to shop around, and make sure that you check the price of your food before you buy. Of course, that is easier said than done in Britain, because large retailers and reputable small retailers price and weigh groceries by the kilogram. But not everyone plays fairly; some rogue traders, especially in markets, continue to price by the pound, and weigh produce using scales which cannot be checked by Trading Standards officers.

Some councils actively clamp down on such behaviour, but not all; some are turning a blind eye to these unfair practices and allowing their rogue traders to mislead their consumers. It is high time that British consumers were treated to some support from those paid to protect their interests in the marketplace, and if your council is ignoring its legal duty to protect you, write to them and let them know that they are doing their residents a great disservice.

These are just some of the ways that imperial costs the consumer money directly. There are many financial benefits to the state of other metric reforms, such as:

  • the cost of road traffic accidents caused by misunderstanding our imperial signs by foreign drivers;
  • the costs to the education services of having to teach children two sets of measures, and conversions between them, when one logical system should be plenty;
  • the time spent â?? and the potential for mistakes â?? when NHS staff dumb down patientsâ?? weights to imperial measures for the patient, and then have to convert back to metric for their own use. Why not just encourage patients to remember kilograms?

It’s about time we saved ourselves these costs, and the government stopped taking money from our shrinking wallets to indulge those who would prefer we turned the clock back to the 1950s.

23 thoughts on “End Britain’s Great Imperial Rip-Off”

  1. Won’t cars in Britain still be more expensive than the Continent even if we switched to kilometres, because we drive on the left while the Continent drives on the right?


  2. The sooner the UK switches fully to metric road signage and all traders selling only in metric, the sooner we can save money and become more efficient.

    I find it bizarre than anyone would want to continue with the two systems, especially considering the extra costs involved. For weather forecasting, for example, in newspapers where they print both Celsius and Fahrenheit temperatures, I expect someone has had to convert all the C temps to F, from the data supplied by the Met Office (which is no doubt all in C), and then when the person doing the graphic and text in the weather section has to fit in all that extra F info. As a desktop publishing professional, I know that it is more work to add in those extra figures, whereas just using Celsius would be quicker to layout, and in the final printed paper uses slightly less ink as well as giving a cleaner and clearer look if only C temps are quoted.


  3. I imported a car on moving to the UK in 2004 and paid much less than that for the speedometer conversion – it’s a half-hour job and they just switch the face (you don’t need to replace the unit). But the point I’m making is that my example actually destroys one of the arguments against road signage going metric – drivers who wished to change from imperial predominant to metric only for speed measurement would find the cost perfectly reasonable and competition would probably drive down costs anyway.


  4. And on the subject of the NHS dumbing down, on arriving in the UK I had to register with a doctor. On being asked my height and weight I replied in the only units I’d been using for the past twenty years, i.e. metric ones. I was, to put it mildly, amazed to find that the nurse had to enter these figures onto the computer in imperial and that before doing so was obliged to consult the scales of a hand-held chart used for gauging body mass index to make the conversion!


  5. >”…the potential for mistakes when NHS staff dumb down patients’ weights to imperial measures for the patient, and then have to convert back to metric for their own use.”

    My lovely niece, born three weeks ago at 3.3kg was wrongly converted to 6lb,11oz (about 3kg) at the time of birth. The fact that they were lead to believe that she was underweight, and the subsequent knowledge that she had been weight wrongly caused them undue concern. If everyone got used to the idea that 3.4kg is the average normal baby weight, this could all be avoided.


  6. You are all forgetting that most normal people understand miles per hour only. You fail to understand that there are tens of millions of drivers here in the UK, and it’s a small minority who understand kilometres per hours and an even smaller group who want to see road signs changed. If foreign drivers can’t understand imperial, then they shouldn’t drive over here (we have to adjust when we drive on the continent). And you also forget that a majority of people in the UK know their weight and height in imperial only.


  7. Dear Tabitha.
    What people may or may not “understand” currently has no bearing on the benefits of change. You admit that we can adapt when we have to.
    The article is making an economic case for the change. Accomodating foreign drivers is only part of it.
    Until anyone comes up with proper arguments against the change, i.e. the long term disadvantages, if there are any, not just ‘it’s what we are used to’ I and others will continue to press case on merit.


  8. Tabitha wrote “You are all forgetting that most normal people understand miles per hour only�. I am perplexed by the statement “most normal people�.

    Are non-Brits not normal? What about the 33% of London residents who were not born in the UK? Are they “not normalâ€?? What about the hundreds of thousands of UK citizens who travel to the Continent every year? Are they “not normalâ€?? Finally, what about the HGV and long-distance coach drivers who are compelled to use kilometres and kilometres per hour for their record-keeping and have their speedometers with km/h as the dominant unit. Are they “not normalâ€?? – they are almost certainly fed-up with having to convert between the two all the time.


  9. sorry tabitha but according to most polls ( mainly on the web ) a vast majority of people want a change! did you know for excample when british drivers go to the continent or anywhere else in the world! they are usualy pulled over for speeding as soon as they get on the motorways or roads ? i have even heard of people doing 120 mph instead of 120 km/h! thats why we need change or wait until there are more brits killed on the roads P.S IF YOU ARE SO ANTI-METRIC WHY ARE YOU WRITING TO A PRO METRIC WEB SITE ? IS IT BECAUSE NO ONE IS LISTING & YOU NEED THE ATTENTION?

    Please note that UKMA do not reject reasonable comments from those who oppose metrication. Part of the purpose of this blog is to expose the weakness of the opposition case. Whenever we receive such comments we always endevour answer them in a reasonable manner. We hope that people who are more open minded will judge for themselves and, on balance, see the merits of the case for completing metrication in the UK.


  10. Steady on. We do not know whether Tabitha Jones was using the word “normal” to mean the mathematical definition as “statistically conforming to a norm” or the derived but more usual definition (somewhat pejorative in its implications) as “free from disorder; not abnormal”.

    If she means the former definition I am sure she is right as regards most UK residents. However, in the world as a whole, the use of imperial is certainly not normal in any mathematical, or statistical, sense. The question remains unaltered, however, which is whether completing the metric changeover would be beneficial.

    If she means the latter definition then there is the implication, as I stated, that those UK residents preferring the metric system are somehow abnormal or disordered, which would constitute, of course, purely a point of view with no logical reason.


  11. i would like to appologize for about my comments about why some one who is anti-metric would write on a pro-meric web sight i understand that everyone has a right no matter there opinions to this debate but living where i do having seen metric distance signs in our local nature reserve a few years back when i was young and thought this country was going forward? only to have them pulled down by some people who wants to stop the metric process in this country without debate? how will this look in 2012 once again im sorry for any offence!


  12. Glad I have left the UK and now living in Australia (along with 2 million other British citizens); English speaking and yet one of the most metric countries in the world. UK Gov policy on the metric issue is retarded and unfortunately reflects the Daily Mail/UKIP mindset so many people in Britain have- and one of the reasons why I left! People need to realise, if they get fed up with Britain and want to leave, they had better learn metric, except of course if they want to go to those top emigrant destinations of choice Burma and Liberia and of course the US.


  13. I am quite certain that most “normal” Britons understood Lsd currency quite nicely and had no “need” to convert to decimal currency. As I recall, there was a bit of a row from some quarters on this front.

    Can Tabitha cite a large segment of today’s British population that would like to scrap decimal currency and revert?


  14. I remember pounds shillings and pence – possibly the last generation to do so as I think it would be very difficult for anyone more than a year or so younger than me. I loved the old coins and have very fond memories of going to the sweet shop to buy goodness knows how many sweets for a penny.

    Nostalgia is comforting and recalling good memories is heart-warming. But that’s where it ends. It would be sheer lunacy to go back to it, and it was the correct decision to decimalise. The same argument prevails for metric. Spending twenty years of my adult life outside the UK taught me the logic of the metric system, and finding a stubborn reluctance amongst the British to embrace it upon my return made the imperial system seem just an annoyance.


  15. I remember the change over to decimal currency quite well. I reveal that I am now 58 so readers can place me in historical context.
    During the run-up to D-Day (Feb 1971) I was absolutely astonished at the complaints I was hearing from ordinary folk around me. What on earth is the matter with them I thought? Surely the benefits of a currency with 100 p to the pound (like the American system with 100 c to the dollar) has enormous advantages?
    I still don’t understand them to this day. I still hear occasionally people claim they never really let go of pounds shillings and pence.
    What a sad world I live in in the UK!


  16. I think that there is a huge hidden cost that has not been anywhere near quantified, and that is the time wasted by everyone in doing conversions between the two systems. Many of those conversions are of course done in people’s own time, so are not a true ‘cost’. But what about the conversions done by people when they are at work? Now some people are doing them on a continuous basis, some people will only do them occasionally, but all of us have to do them now and again.

    Just suppose that 20 million people have to do on average 5 conversions a day while they are at work, and that each conversion takes on average 10 seconds (some will take just a second or two, some may take a minute or more, including checking that the answer is correct, but again we are talking averages). At say an average of £20 an hour (employer’s cost, including overheads and benefits), that’s a total of £5.5 million – EVERY DAY. That’s around £1.4 BILLION a year.

    What a waste of time, money and resources, all because too many people want to cling to an antiquated measuring sytem for no practical reason. And it’s a cost that cannot be avoided – we live in a 95% metric world, and we live by trading with it.


  17. here’s an argument forlong term disadvantages of turning completely metric. More taxes! who’s gonna pay to re-educate everyone so that we all understand metric? Also, if turning metric does mean that we have to change the side of the road we drive on, how many accidents will that cause because people simply can’t ft used to it? and who will pay for everyone to re-take their driving test? of course that would be yet another tax because people won’t willingly pay for that again I’m sure. just a thought.


  18. @Sarah
    Two metric myths here that can be easily countered (who keeps resurrecting them, I wonder).
    Driving on the right. There is no connection between driving on the right and the use of metric. The Republic of Ireland and many Commonwealth countries have switched their road signs to metric but still drive on the left, including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Malaysia and Cyprus. Canada used to drive on the right, changed its road signs to metric, and still drives on the right.
    Education. UK Universities switched from 1971, primary and secondary schools from 1974. The costs of the change were incurred over thirty years ago. Over half the population has now learned metric at school, and Britain’s experience with decimal currency and that of other countries with their metric changeover showed that people adapt quickly when they encounter new currency and measures in their everyday life.
    I believe that in a very competitive global economy, running two measurement systems side by side is a self-imposed handicap Britain can well do without. Sarah may disagree.


  19. @Sarah

    Hi Sarah,
    I see that the previous comment, has answered your two questions, regarding driving on the right, and the cost to educate people in metric measures. Also stated was “Over half the population has now learned metric at school”. If you have not been educated in metric measures, and need to learn about the metric system, I recommend the following sites.
    To learn the basics of the metric system http://www.thinkmetric.org.uk/
    To learn about the wider aspects of the metric system and how it relates to people in the UK http://www.ukma.org.uk/
    Theses sites also give you information and advice on how to use metric measures.
    I hope this enables you to have a better understanding of the metric system.


  20. @Sarah

    You seem to miss the point here, British school children and the general public have been educated in metric for the last 40 years, in fact many people have never actually had formal education in Imperial measures in this country.

    So, you might argue that the money has already been spent… and that by dropping Imperial altogether we will actually save money.


  21. @Sarah
    In addition to the above:
    Who knows how much tax payers money is now being wasted by having to teach school children how to convert between metric and imperial?
    If you find that objectionable then perhaps you could direct your concerns to the Depart for Transport who stubbornly refuse to change road signs and to the politicians for not promoting the use of metric in everday life.


  22. @Sarah Webster.
    I am well into retirement now. I was educated in metric before I left secondary school age less that 15 (pre 1960). I am left wondering who these people are that need to be re-educated. I understand that all education (in UK) from 1974 was in metric, that is 38 years of full metric education. So in answer to that question, it is already done, dusted and paid for. What we ARE STILL paying for and will continue paying for is running two systems side by side with all the complications that involves. I personally can well do without everything being duplicated supposedly so we old folk can “understand” things better.
    Apart from that, despite our comments here, metric is used throughout the media on a daily basis and there can surely not be a person in the land that can legitimately say they don’t understand such a simple and basic thing as the metric system. It is more a case of “don’t want to”, “Don’t need to” and “Not going to”, despite the fact life would be so much easier all round.
    No one can enter any supermarket without seeing metric on just about every shelf.

    I am totally mystified by this idea of metric involving driving on the right hand side of the road! I think I will avoid further comment on that one.

    Finally I would say if anyone does not understand metres, grams and litres then for sure they will never in ten lifetimes ever understand those awful feet and inches, pints and gallons, pounds and ounces that were the curse of all school children of the day.

    Can’t wait to see the end of them all.


  23. Follow up to BrianAC: I think the 1974 date that you mention for schools changing to metric refers to the end of the transition. I entered secondary school in 1970 and it was 100% metric for us – we were the first intake year to be taught that way.

    So, in my school (and for the entire exam board’s area) it was the case that “O” levels and CSE’s sat in Summer 1975 and onwards were 100% metric.

    As everyone points out: what “cost of educating everyone in metric”? It’s been done that way for decades!


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