After finally admitting they were wrong to try to withhold this information, the DfT have now published their analysis of the responses to their earlier consultation on the proposed phasing out of imperial-only height and width restriction traffic signs.
What this shows is that the responses gave little or no support for the irrational decision by the then Secretary of State, Philip Hammond, to cancel the proposal – thus allowing imperial-only signs to remain in place indefinitely (and even permitting new ones to be erected).
Hammond said, in a press release:
“It’s bad enough that Labour were hellbent on replacing feet and inches with metres. It is completely unacceptable that they were going to spend over £2m of taxpayers money to do so when we have one of the biggest budget deficits in Europe.
“It’s almost as if Gordon Brown’s Government sat around thinking of new ways to waste taxpayers’ money.
“I am clear that from now on we will ensure that every pound of money the Department for Transport spends will be well spent.“
This statement did not in fact come to light until December 2011 (as a result of a Freedom of Information (FoI) request). In the meantime UKMA had written to Philip Hammond and then to his successor, Justine Greening, asking them to review or give a proper explanation of the decision. Neither replied personally, but a brush-off letter was received from a Department official giving no further relevant information.
UKMA therefore made a further FoI request asking the DfT to publish the responses to the 2009 consultation (which, in breach of an earlier promise, they had previously failed to do). The result, which was previously reviewed by MetricViews on 2 January can be read at this link. As this document was over 600 pages long, UKMA then inquired whether the DfT had carried out a summary analysis of it. In reply, the DfT confirmed that such an analysis existed, but said that they would not release it on the grounds that it ‘relates to the formulation or development of government policy’.
As this is not a valid ground for withholding information once the policy decision has been taken (which obviously it had), UKMA then wrote formally requesting the release of this document and also asking for “any other background papers of a factual or statistical nature that are relevant to the decision.” At the same time UKMA made a formal complaint that the original request had not been properly dealt with.
The DfT have now admitted (8 March) that they were wrong to try to withhold this information, and have now published it together with an apology. The analysis of the responses to the consultation can be read at this link. [To assist in decoding it, the first column relates to the number of the question in the original consultation paper: the relevant questions are numbers 4, 11 and 12. The third column (headed “No.”) is the number of the consultee – so responses from each consultee have been split and re-arranged under the question number. The comments on the responses are by the civil servant who carried out the analysis].
What emerges from the comments is a complete indifference bordering on hostility to metrication. See comments such as
“This response from [deleted] is nothing more than a metrication argument and should be dealt with in the usual way”.
“It is not appropriate at this stage to change to metric-only signs”
“metric-only signs are a non-starter at this stage”.
It is noteworthy that the author seized on the minority of responses that complained about the short term cost of replacing imperial-only signs, while ignoring the majority who accepted the original cost estimates or did not respond to the consultation.
The author’s comments probably reflect a deep cultural problem within the DfT.
On a lighter note, the exchange on the fatuous proposal to give cycling distances in units of time is quite amusing. See footnote 1.
In the 8 March letter, in response to UKMA’s second question, the DfT replied that “we do not hold any factual or statistical background papers on this subject” and added that “the only information we hold is a briefing paper dated 22nd July 2010 [after the decision had been taken – Editor] which was prepared for the Special Advisors to the (then) Secretary of State”. This document is actually Annex B to the 8 March letter. The “Special Advisers” (or “spads” as they are known2) are in fact political and/or media advisers, and it is clear from the briefing that its purpose was to enable the spads to advise on the political presentation of what might appear to the media as an irrational or perverse decision and which would be opposed by the rail industry.
So what conclusions can be drawn from all this (assuming it is all true)?
1. The DfT claim to hold no factual or statistical information “on this subject” (presumably meaning the cost or incidence of bridge strikes and the costs of signage).
2. Therefore the Secretary for Transport could not have received any briefing from his Department that might have provided a reasoned justification for his decision.
3. The decision was therefore purely political, based on anti-metric prejudice, and the desire both to appeal to the Eurosceptics in his (and other) parties and to score points off the previous Government.
4. There is an underlying assumption at a civil servant level within the DfT that metrication is off the agenda, and any proposals to advance metrication will be opposed and blocked.
5. There was considerable disquiet within the DfT about the “daft idea” of measuring cycling distances in minutes. Nevertheless, the daft idea prevailed.
6. Some DfT civil servants have not received adequate training in their obligations under the Freedom of Information Act.
1 The exchange went as follows:
“Cycling issues para 12: the new diagram 2602.1 expresses better than any words could convey the sheer fatuousness of replacing distances with journey times. Presumably the times are based on an assumption that a cyclist travels at 8mph, or something in that region. So here I am; on my way to Wells (perhaps intending to collect the Holy Grail as I pass Glastonbury). 1hr 15 mins (should that be “min”, by the way?). Er … so how long will that take me? I know I can do about 6mph, but I don’t know what the clever clogs at DfT assumed when they calculated the journey time. If only they’d said something useful, like “12 miles”, I’d be able to work it out for myself. Ruddy bureaucrats, sitting at their desks drinking tea all day. Where was I? Oh yes, how long will it take me to get to Wells? Have I time for a cream tea before I continue? No way of knowing… The problem is even worse for pedestrians, where the time differences (and the effort) might be even greater. This is the daftest idea ever to appear in TSRGD, but I suppose there’s no way of stopping it now.”
Response from document author:
“Journey times on cycle signs – quote “This is the daftest idea ever to appear in TSRGD, but I suppose there’s no way of stopping it now.” Oh yes, there is – we have had sufficient objections (including mine) to this proposal to abandon it for now. Explanation as to why it is a “daft idea” couldn’t be better.”
Sadly and incredibly, however, the “daft idea” has now been implemented. Sometimes mad proposals gather a momentum of their own and do indeed become unstoppable.
2 The two “spads” were in fact:
Siân Jones is [was] transport secretary Philip Hammond’s policy adviser, a role that she also performed in opposition when he was shadow chief secretary to the Treasury. She worked in the CRD [Conservative Research Department] from 2005-07 as an adviser on work and pensions before moving to Hammond’s office shortly after his move to the Treasury portfolio. She studied modern languages at Cambridge and has also worked in management consultancy and journalism.
Paul Stephenson acts [acted] as Hammond’s media spad [Special Adviser]. He was formerly head of research at Open Europe, a think-tank which argues that the EU requires radical reform based on economic liberalisation and a more flexible structure. Stephenson is a specialist in EU regulation and the co-author of publications including A Guide to the Constitutional Treaty and Less Regulation: 4 Ways to Cut the Burden of EU Red Tape.
46 thoughts on “DfT admits: no basis for blocking metric signs”
The sad thing is that in the grander scheme of things £2 million to change road signs is not really that much money. What would be really interesting to see would be a cost breakdown of the consultation itself and see how much more money was wasted by overturning what was probably one of the most sensible decisions to come out of such a consultation in a long time!
[In fact it was not even £2 million. According to the consultation document, it would have been £527 000 – Editor]
Congratulations on getting this information despite the hurdles in the way. This is just the sort of openness we need for better debate. Seeing the full cycle of the consultation should allow better contributions in future.
Quote from civil servant:
“Dual length limit sign – we tried to come up with a design for the TSRGD 2002, but were unsuccessful. We could treat this sign the same as diagram 530 and prescribe imperial/metric signs together. It does seem odd that this will now be the only vehicle size sign that can be shown as imperial-only.”
It’s good to see that it has at least been considered. It’s disappointing that they haven’t found a solution.
BWMA quoted the Dft:
“The Department does not hold information on the signing in place at locations where bridge strikes have occurred, nor has such research been carried out”
It would be useful to evidence-based-debate if the DfT were able to provide such information.
And to think I voted for the Tories. I feel ashamed. Are there any pro-metric parties out there?
Perhaps the minister responsible for the rail network’s operational performance – Norman Baker – should be asked whether he agrees with Network Rail and the DfT’s rail division that all low bridges should be signed in metres, so that foreign drivers can understand the signs?
Hearty congratulations to the stout hearts at UKMA for their persistence in ferreting out this information!
Not only is £527,000 “chump change” (as we call it in the States) for a country with the GDP that the UK has, it totally fails to take into account the salutary effects beyond avoiding bridge strikes of creating the tipping point for completion of metrication in daily UK life to promote improved numeracy and British industrial and scientific competitiveness.
Which is precisely why the troglodytes at DfT opposed the idea. The want to delay that tipping point as long as possible. The triumph of dogma over reason!
Note my comments at http://metricviews.org.uk/2011/10/review-fails-to-address-major-traffic-sign-issues/
Gary Sears wrote:
“And to think I voted for the Tories. I feel ashamed. …”
No need to reproach yourself Gary. The sad truth is that none of the major parties have a good track record on metrication. They all take a populist line and fail to understand the issues.
The one saving grace is that when the public do eventually see the light it will be easier to build cross-party support because there won’t be a legacy of polarization.
As a Sustrans member I cannot believe that cycle route may be measured in minutes! It must be just a diversion to avoid admitting that continent wide routes are in km. I have forwarded the argument on to Velo Vision magazine and will also contact Sustrans. I cannot understand just why DfT is so scared of admitting metric may be OK, now that the Murdoch press is in disarray politically. Common sense just flies out of the window (at 100 km/h)
Perhaps the Department for Transport would be more amenable to change if it was likely to be sued when bridge strikes occur.
Gary Sears – have you tried writing to your MP to ask his views on metric? I wrote to my local Tory MP George Hollingbery and he is pro-metric. Worth finding out…
@ Jeff – interesting to hear of a pro-metric Tory MP. Maybe he can a word with my local Tory MP – a certain Mr David Cameron whose reply to my letter on metrication indicated that he ‘respected the views of many people to retain the remaining British units that they are familiar with’.
Like David Cameron, I also respect the views of those preferring to keep units they are familiar with. However, while respecting their view, I cannot understand how it follows that because we understand that some people don’t like change, the national interests should be subservient to this particular opinion. What made Britain truly great was the enormous advancement of science and industry in the industrial revolution. If the Luddites had had their way, we would have become a poor backwater. Sadly history and economics are not well understood by those who would prefer we turn our back on the outside world.
After I wrote to my local MP, Glenda Jackson, to ask her to find out why the DfT dropped its proposals for mandatory dual height and width restriction signs for bridges, I received a letter dated 8 February 2012 from my MP, who wrote to me, saying “I have raised this matter with the Secretary of State for Transport [Justine Greening], and I will be back in touch when I receive a response to my letter.”. My MP has not contacted me since then so I presume that neither Justine Greening nor the DfT has responded to her letter. It comes as no surprise that the SoS and the DfT refuse to answer questions about the illogical and irrational decision to drop the proposal.
Why hasn’t the Opposition held the Government to account over this issue and asked the Government to explain why they dropped the proposal?
It seems that Phillip Hammond was only interested in political point scoring rather than looking at the proposal on its own merits. What he said was contradicted by the DfT’s own cost-benefit assessment that showed the proposal would have saved money over a 10 year period. The cost to councils would have been £527 000, not £2m as he wrongly stated. In either case, such figures are peanuts in the grand scheme of things.
1. If cost is a barrier, I don’t understand why a zero cost option wasn’t implemented. It costs nothing to phase out imperial-only dimension signs at end of life.
2. If national decision-makers say local decision makers will make the choice about whether to replace imperial-only signs, I don’t understand why replacing imperial-only signs isn’t one of the choices permitted.
Not sure if you have all seen this recent Tweet from UKMA:
‘The question in last week’s poll in ‘What car’ was:
How would you like to measure fuel consumption?
The final result was:
Surprising when you remember that the tabloids often use gallons for fuel prices and the DfT still insists that distances are signed in miles.’
This survey really shows how out of touch the Government, and DoT in particular, is with reference to peoples acceptance of metric measurements with 55% of respondents choosing data containing the L, and a surprisingly encouraging 41% choosing data containing km’s. So, the gallon seems to be very much on the way out in many peoples minds, and the km is becoming more familiar. There is hope!!!
Please share the information at:
I must commend the UKMA for managing to get hold of this document. It makes for very interesting reading, and I’ve just spend a couple of days doing my own analysis on who said what and why. I must say though that I disagree with some of Erithacus’s original conclusions at the lead of this thread:
Erithacus: ‘What emerges from the comments is a complete indifference bordering on hostility to metrication. See comments such as
“This response from [deleted] is nothing more than a metrication argument and should be dealt with in the usual way”.’
Actually, Ericathus, though such a response would raise hackles on the neck of any pro-metric person, the DfT’s reviewer had a point. That particular response from that consultee was pretty much a cut-and-paste about the history of the metric system, no doubt cribbed verbatim from Wikipedia! He or she didn’t make any comment on the subject in hand – i.e. road signs! So it was indeed just pro-metric rhetoric.
DfT: “It is not appropriate at this stage to change to metric-only signs”
Notice the “at this stage” bit. Call me an optimist, but you’ve got to realise that the DfT planned just to issue a minor amendment to an existing SI. I get the feeling from this response (and several like it) that something as major as actually changing the nature of roadsigns in general was not considered “appropriate” for a minor amendment. Indeed, reading between the lines, I get the feeling that the DfT never expected the level of pro-metric sentiment that this consultation revealed. All they wanted to do was bodge metric measures in with the imperial ones on bridges….. 🙂
DfT: “metric-only signs are a non-starter at this stage”.
Again – note the “at this stage” bit. It was always supposed to be a minor amendment regulation, not a rewrite of the TSRGD. You’ll notice a couple of comments from consultees complaining already that what with TSRGD already being amended by about five different amendment SI’s, it’s becoming difficult to understand, and the DfT’s reviewer does make a comment along the lines that they don’t like it when one amendment reg. amends another amendment reg. itself amending the main law!
I do believe that the DfT are planning for a new full rewrite of TSRGD, possibly due for 2014? Now *that* is where you might expect them to be able to consider major stuff like whether imperial-only signs should all be deprecated en-masse. You can see the DfT’s reviewer being forced to consider such a move (apparently it had never crossed the DfT’s mind before!) in his or her responses. I think I saw about six such asides.
From the UKMA’s point of view though, there is a lot of positive stuff here. Much of it can be used in the arguments over TSRGD 2014 (or whatever it gets called). I don’t know if they plan doing a consultation on *that*. But they can be lobbied anyway….
I counted 84 comments dealing with metric issues in that DfT report. Of them, exactly one argued for metric signs to be removed and a return to imperial-only! Guess whose comment *that* was!
59 respondees commented that dual metric/imperial signage was OK, but nearly half of them (26) complained that the time-limit was unrealistic. 14 respondees even said that they’d like to be able to erect metric-only signs! Several illustrated their point using the fact that height restrictions off-road (petrol forecourts etc) have gone mostly metric-only with no ill effects already.
Back to Erithacus again: “It is noteworthy that the author seized on the minority of responses that complained about the short term cost of replacing imperial-only signs, while ignoring the majority who accepted the original cost estimates or did not respond to the consultation.”
Er – hang on! You can’t do anything about people who “not respond to the consultation”, but “Bob” in the comments-list above does point out that they did have the option to require only *new* signs to be dual-units and let the old ones stay until they wore out. This never seems to have occurred to them.
If you ask me, that topic ought to be taken up with Ms. Greening with some vigour. The stats. are there for all to see. 59:84 stating that they’re happy to do dual units. The missing part of the puzzle – the dual-units triangle based on sign 530 was investigated as the DfT said they’d do, and it was actually designed and published. Of the “single units would be better” brigade, it’s 14: 1 in favour of metric-only.
Bear in mind that Justine Greening has her political future in mind, and would not wish to be seen to slap down Philip Hammond’s stated goal that the DfT cannot be seen to waste money in a recession. But requiring the dual-units signs to be used in all new installations and any refurbishment operations would cost almost nothing to the local authorities, with imperial-only allowed to stay until end-of-life. And the DfT has already spent money on the rework of sign 530.
We paid for that, we should expect to see it required to be used!
This whole discussion abput the backtracking that DfT has done with respect to the plans the Labour government had for mandating dual Imperial and metric height restriction signs) makes me wonder if something similar has happened in the Department of Health with regards to using metric-only weighing scales …. which was also decided upon for safety reasons. Has that been abandoned (whether officially or just de facto) as well?
The problem with requiring dual-unit signs to be used in all new installations and refurbishments and allowing imperial-only to stay until end-of-life is that it will condemn another generation to being faced with imperial signs on the roads, albeit on dual signs. That will mean yet another generation ignoring the metric and ‘seeing’ only the imperial. The only way to start to break out of this vicious circle is to remove imperial units from use in public places once and for all and to use metric only.
Jake’s comment squares perfectly with the experience in Ireland. Once all road signs went metric, the populace moved quite noticeably (according to my correspondent over there) in a few short years to almost total metric usage in their daily conversations.
Jake: you have to understand that it’s a case of gently trying to convince an entrenched government department to move their stance even slightly, despite having just had a metric-phobic minister (from a conservative political party) running the show, and despite the country being in quite serious financial difficulty.
We’re just going to have to put up with slow pace on this one – certainly at the start. But (optimist as I am) I saw positive signs in the internal review of those comments from the consultees to the recent TSRGD amendment.
Several times it was said “metric signs will surely come, but this is not the time”. I also don’t think that it likely that the DfT will ever permit a direct changeover from an imperial-only sign (on a bridge, say) and a metric-only one. It may however be possible to convince them in time for the 2014(?) TSRGD that their own reviewer of the consultation was right to suggest that maybe the time *had* come to deprecate all the imperial-only signs (on new installations).
Then, by say TSRGD 2018 it might be possible to argue that imperial markings should become an option, but metric is required and any surviving imperial-only signs must be replaced in some timescale.
Bear in mind that the private sector are metricating the off-road stuff more and more. You see quite a few privately-erected directions signs in metres these days – even some big names are starting to join in. Petrol forecourts, hotel and hospital door canopies, drive through fast food joints and restricted headrooms around public buildings are almost exclusively flagged in metric-only these days. It may be that before the DfT’s softly-softly approach pans out, their hand will be forced by just the sheer weight of off-road signage in metric-only.
So, the cat’s out of the bag! Even when the DfT itself shows that metric signs will actually SAVE us money, the government of the day chooses to spend the extra to keep imperial – and then lies about the costs!
The reason for not converting road signs to metric has never been about the cost. It has always been about political will.
It is a quirk in our legislation (or rather in the way in which our politicians allowed EU directives to be published) that makes it mandatory of garage forecourts to display metric units, while on road signs it is optional.
Earlier this year, I wrote to my MP, Glenda Jackson, about the DfT’s decision to drop the proposal for mandatory restriction signs. Today, I received a letter from my MP about the correspondence she received from Norman Baker, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport. It came after a long delay.
Here is the transcript of the letter dated 3 April 2012 from Norman Baker to Glenda Jackson, which is worth publishing in full as it gives us an insight into the mindset of the DfT:
Thank you for your letter of 8 February to Justine Greening, enclosing one from your constituent, Mr Ronnie Cohen of [address deleted], about a mandatory dual height and width restriction sign proposal. I apologise for the delay in replying.
I have noted Mr Cohen’s comments on the proposal which was incorporated in a consultation on the amendments to the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002. I can confirm that the decision not to impose mandatory dual measurement height and width warning signs was taken by Philip Hammond, the previous Secretary of State. The decision avoids a cost burden on local authorities and gives local authorities greater discretion in how they use signs on their roads rather than having more regulation imposed by Whitehall. A briefing paper relating to the decision is available on the Department’s website at http://assets.dft.gov.uk/foi/dft-f0008512/dft-f0008512.pdf. [This is not in fact a “briefing paper” but the reluctant and belated response to a Freedom of Information request – as explained in the above article – Editor]
The Department’s plan for the future of our traffic signing system is set out in the policy document ‘Signing the Way’. Our aim is to reduce regulatory requirements and to provide more flexibility for highway authorities, allowing them to take responsibility for determining the level of signing that they provide. This document can be viewed on our website at: http://www.dft.gov.uk/publications/signing-the-way.
Mr Cohen may be interested to know that, as part of this work and following the recent amendments, local authorities now have a sign at their disposal which may be used to direct large/heavy vehicles not to take an unsuitable route. The design uses a goods vehicle pictogram with a red diagonal line through it to indicate ‘not for heavy goods vehicles’, and will generally be sited where there are problems with drivers taking inappropriate routes due to over-reliance on satellite navigation systems. It should however be noted that this information sign can not be used as a substitute for regulatory width or height limit signing.
In addition, the amendments have also prescribed new vehicle height limit warning signs containing both imperial and metric units. This provides highway authorities with a cheaper and less visually intrusive alternative to the existing diagram 530.
As to work that we are currently doing on the problem of bridge strikes, your constituent may be interested to know that we have recently helped organise a summit of satnav companies, local authorities and freight associations. At the meeting, a number of participants agreed to form a joint working group, where all of the different groups can talk to one another and coordinate their actions. One of the group’s plans is to work closely with Kent County Council and major ports to help inform foreign lorry drivers. It is my hope and expectation that this work will help to reduce the overall number of bridge strikes each year.
With regard to Mr Cohen’s concern about the lack of understanding of imperial units by foreign lorry drivers, I should make clear that the onus is on individual drivers to familiarise themselves with the rules of the Highway Code before driving in the UK. The Code applies to all road users, irrespective of their nationality, and failure to comply with its legal requirements is a criminal offence.
I hope that this clarifies the position.
Norman Baker is the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport.
[Readers will no doubt make their own comments on the holes in this reply. With regard to the last point (that foreign drivers should study the Highway Code), the HC (which of course is written in English and Welsh) gives dimensions for short distances in metres and feet, whereas UK distance signage is in yards and fractions of a mile. In any case I wonder how many UK drivers study the French/Spanish/German etc highway codes before driving on the Continent! It is unreasonable to expect foreign drivers to learn idiosyncratic and obsolete measures when it is perfectly possible to display internationally recognised symbols and units, especially as the latter are familiar to most UK drivers anyway. – Editor]
I also wrote to my local MP about metrication sometime ago, and got what I thought was … errm … a somewhat less than useful reply from a Minister that left me wondering if I was on the right planet, with an e-mail back indicating a degree of dis-satisfaction.
One thing from this though is quite clear they are trying to pass the can of worms to the councils rather than grasp the nettle themselves. Now do we really need a ‘joint working group’ to try to solve the problem of bridge strikes? If so at what cost (to the rate/tax payer) for this massive time wasting event. Maybe we could adopt another ancient solution, a piece of rope across the road tied to a bell. If the vehicle hits it the bell rings to warn the driver he(she) is about to hit the bridge.
In common with many I have had no problems driving in 23 countries even with Arabic only signage, once again even then (i. e. Saudi Arabia) dual signage tends to confuse the issue, better to have one unknown (i.e. Iran) than two and get used to it. A multiplicity of strange and DIFFERING signs is and always will be part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Less is more so to speak.
Mr Baker says:
“As to work that we are currently doing on the problem of bridge strikes, your constituent may be interested to know that we have recently helped organise a summit of satnav companies, local authorities and freight associations. At the meeting, a number of participants agreed to form a joint working group, where all of the different groups can talk to one another and coordinate their actions. One of the group’s plans is to work closely with Kent County Council and major ports to help inform foreign lorry drivers. It is my hope and expectation that this work will help to reduce the overall number of bridge strikes each year.”
It’s funny how there is enough money to co-ordinate working groups, attend meetings, set up some form of information system for foreign lorry drivers, and probably other ‘initiatives’, no doubt soaking up a lot of staff time and expenses in the process, but there is never enough money to do what should be done to obviate all this time and expense – and that is just convert the signs in the first place.
Of course, that is a far too simple and obvious solution – not the way the British do things.
Exactly, maybe UKMA could ask under the FoI act how much all this consultation costs vis-a-vis doing the job of metricating the signs and eliminating the problem ‘at a stroke’
The refernce to satnav companies is interesting. Perhaps the DfT is investigating whether bridge strikes can be prevented, by satnav technology. Some commercial satnavs can be programed (customised), with HGV dimensions, and total (vehicle and load) weight. Height and width dimensions, from underpasses and tunnels, and weight limits on bridges, can also be entered into the satnav, when maps are updated. The result is that provided the user has a current map the device will plan a route that avoids restrictions where the HGV would be unable to pass. Of course satnav technoogy is only as good as the user, and human error can still occur.
Norman Baker wrote:
“Our aim is to reduce regulatory requirements and to provide more flexibility for highway authorities, allowing them to take responsibility for determining the level of signing that they provide.”
This is a dubious reason not to compel the inclusion of metric indications but if taken to its logical conclusion then units of measurement for height and width restrictions should be at the discretion of highways authorities.
So why prescribe the use of imperial? It would be cheaper and more flexible to allow the option of signing in metres only!
Further comments on the Minister’s letter:
1. Quote “The decision avoids a cost burden on local authorities”. But the DfT’s own figures showed that the proposal would save money in the long run. Most local authorities consulted did not raise this issue. The decision actually maintains the cost burden on everybody else – notably, Network Rail, train passengers, highway authorities, police and emergency services, motorists, haulage companies, insurance companies. In any case the proposal could have been modified to make it cost-free – e.g. by extending the time scale.
2. Quote “…and gives local authorities greater discretion in how they use signs on their roads rather than having more regulation imposed by Whitehall.” The whole purpose of the Traffic Sign Regulations (TSRGD) is to ensure uniform national standards in the signing of roads so that drivers are not confused by finding different signage in different areas. This justification is fatuous and disingenuous and contradicts the very purpose of the TSRGD.
If the DfT is so concerned about the cost burdens of mandatory dual height and width restriction signs on local authorities, the DfT could have made dual restriction signs mandatory only for new signs at no extra cost to the public purse. Over several years, imperial-only signs would be phased out as they wear out and have to be replaced.
Unfortunately, the imperialists at the DfT are strongly opposed to metrication on British roads and are happy with the status quo. Given the anti-metric environment among the mass circulation newspapers, eurosceptic MPs, market traders and the DfT, it is hard to make any progress on metrication even when it can be proven to be in our own interests.
The government reshuffle on 4 September brought a new Secretary of State to the Department for Transport, namely Patrick McLoughlin. The BBC’s political correspondent, Michael Crick, tweeted that Mr McL “… will be the 24th living person to have held the job.” Compare that with five Prime Ministers.
Let’s hope it won’t be too long before the revolving door at the DfT brings in someone who sees transport as a component of the wider UK economy, not just a stand-alone project.
Quote today from Ed Miliband, (OK, I know he is biased): “People want competent government and we’re not getting it in transport obviously.” Yes, obviously, as MV has pointed out on numerous occasions.
Another quote today, from the most senior civil servant at the Department for Transport (DfT), Philip Rutnam, who said:
“The errors exposed by our investigation are deeply concerning. They show a lack of good process and a lack of proper quality assurance. I am determined to identify exactly what went wrong and why, and to put these things right so that we never find ourselves in this position again.”
Mr Rutnam was referring to the award of the West Coast Main Line rail franchise, but that sorry saga has echoes of the DfT calculation in 2005 of the cost of metric conversion of the UK’s road traffic signs. At the time, only the DfT, politicians and the anti-metric brigade said they believed the figures, and all subsequent evidence has shown them to be excessive. Yet the DfT will not back down, and continues to facilitate the waste of more public money on obsolescent imperial signs.
Look out for a new article on MV on Friday, 5 October.
A report published last week by the CBI entitled “A model to fund our future roads” put the figure at £9.4 billion spent on UK highways each year compared to £35 billion raised from tax on road users. Yet we have the former Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond, getting very excited about a proposal to spend £2 million over 4 years on dual height and width restriction signs (0.005% of the annual spend). Which illustrates how irrational and prejudiced the opponents of metric signs can be.
It looks as if “penny wise, pound foolish” has become a habit at the DfT. The Observer reports today as follows:
“The fiasco of the west coast main line rail franchise bids could have been avoided if the government had not cancelled an external audit to save money, according to people who have worked at the Department for Transport.
The fiasco, revealed after First Group won the contract to run the line instead of Virgin Trains, could end up costing the government up to £100 million, while the financial audit would not have cost more than £1 million.”
OK, Philip Hammond’s decision to drop the requirement for dual restriction road traffic signs is not in the same league – save £2 million and waste over £10 million – but at least he was warned of the consequences of his action unlike, it seems, his successor.
To be a little picky here, it costs the Government nothing. Why should they really care that much?
It is the UK taxpayer that pays the bills.
Today, we hear a government minister justifying expenditure of £1.8 billion (for building accommodation for troops returning from Germany) on the grounds that “it will lead, in time, to savings of £240 million a year” and that this “significant cash injection will boost the economy”. Sounds like a cost-benefit argument to me.
And who is the minister resorting to this to justify huge expenditure? Yes, our old friend, Philip Hammond, who two years ago argued against spending £527 000 on traffic signs, even though supported by a strong cost-benefit case, “when we have one of the biggest budget deficits in Europe.”
But we know only too well that the DfT’s resistance to metricating Britain’s road signs is not based on economics, but is ideological. Perhaps when the DfT (and going all the way up to the PM) starts to look at what imperial road signs are costing the UK in terms of lost prestige, lost exports, wasted education resources, and all the other costs inherent in dealing with two sets of measurement units, will we see some proper economic reasoning in favour of converting our signs to metric units.
@JF-L is “spot on”. Alas, this government is hopeless. I believe our only chance for movement on road sign metrication is the return of Labour to power. 😦
Philip Hammond, yes – the same Philip Hammond quoted in the article above, has just wasted £7.4 million on attempting to privatise defence procurement:
In 2010, when explaining his decision not to spend £2 million on dual height and width restriction signs (spread over four years and justified on cost-benefit grounds), Hammond said:
“I am clear that from now on we will ensure that every pound of money the Department for Transport spends will be well spent.“
For some reason, he does not appear to have adopted this principle at the MoD.
On the subject of signs for cyclists, this demonstration in Wales of how to pointlessly maximise signage costs was brought to my attention recently:
Are the Welsh tall? I can’t imagine more than 1% of cyclists NEED to dismount. Any way, the headroom is given, can’t they decide for themselves? A dual unit clearance sign and no words would seem to suffice. (I’m 194 cm and I believe I would clear standing on the pedals, certainly sitting.)
Ah! But what if the cyclist is standing on the seat and handlebars? I don’t know if they do that a lot in Wales, but I have seen it on TV. Even so, the words are hardly necessary.
Why make the sign dual unit, John? Metric is sufficient for most of the population of the planet ;). Not that I have the foggiest idea how tall I am when I’m sitting on my bike, let alone whilst standing on the pedals, or performing a handstand on the pannier rack. It’s a classic example of the sort of over-engineering one sees on British roads; an absurd sum of money has been spent on something complicated that doesn’t achieve anything. Even for people performing circus acts in the underpasses of Wales, the hazard stripes would surely be (mostly) sufficient. It’s that over-engineering that leads to excessive estimates of how much it would take to metricate our signage.
“Why make the sign dual unit, John? ”
Isn’t that your new law? I agree the Imperial is unnecessary, but I wouldn’t want to advocate violating the law. In Canada, it would be metric only (or Australia or New Zealand or many other countries.
Sitting on the seat, I am shorter than standing on the ground (which is why I mentioned my height). Standing on the pedals (with pedals level on the two sides), I doubt I add 0.2 m to my height, so I still clear. If I am going for max power (standing on the top dead center pedal momentarily), I might be nervous. Then again, reading your traffic sign regs, to be posted 2.3 m, actual clearance needs to be at least 2.4 m, but less than 2.5 m. While I am above the 98 %tile for height, frankly I would need a ladder to bump my head, which I think is your point.