PHSO whitewashes my BEIS complaint about imperial units consultation

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) has investigated my complaint against the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and told me that they found nothing wrong with their consultation document or survey. BEIS has been widely criticised for its biased consultation and limited options for respondents, but these flaws were ignored by PHSO.

Here is a copy of the letter I received from PHSO:

PHSO gives details about the way it reached its conclusions about BEIS in its Primary Investigation Statement:

Point 12 states, “The Cabinet Office publishes Consultation Principles which government departments should follow when conducting consultations. Principle B ‘Consultations should have a purpose’ says do not ask questions about issues on which you already have a final view.”

BEIS asked questions about issues on which Ministers already have a final view. The Ministers who led BEIS at the time wanted the UK to go back to imperial units and produced a survey that appeared to be designed to get the answers they wanted. PHSO admits that this is true when they said that I was right to say that the consultation is weighted towards reintroducing imperial measures, and this is by design. Others saw it. This was reported in the Guardian on 18 September 2022 (Source: “Jacob Rees-Mogg’s imperial measurements consultation ‘biased’ after no option given to say no” by Jon Ungoed-Thomas, link: How did PHSO miss this?

Point 12 contradicts points 18 and 19.

Point 18 states, “As the Government had already reached a view that it would reintroduce imperial units, the Consultation Principles say it should not consult on whether this should happen. The purpose of the consultation is to identify how – rather than whether – it should give consumers and traders more choice over the units of measurement. In other words, to consult on to what extent and how it should reintroduce imperial measures.”.

Point 19 states, “Similarly, BEIS was not advising the Government what the views of stakeholders were on whether or not to reintroduce imperial measures. It was advising what their views were on how they should be introduced. Therefore, it seems appropriate to try to elicit a view on this, rather than on whether to keep the status quo. This appears to be in line with the Civil Service Code.”.

PHSO claims in point 20 that “… the consultation attracted attention in the press, because many other members of the public felt they were not able express their preference to keep the law on weights and measures as it is. It appears likely these stakeholders have exercised the free text options to present their views, … “. How does PHSO know that these stakeholders did not just leave the questions unanswered or picked an option that does not apply to them? Have they asked any supporters of the status quo how they responded to these questions? PHSO has no basis for the claim that it appears likely these stakeholders have exercised the free text options to present their views.

Point 16 says that BEIS said that respondents also had the option to provide views via the free text boxes or by email and that it would consider all responses it received.

This makes it hard to find where responses fit in, especially those that do not fit neatly into any category as respondents can write anything in free text boxes and emails. No wonder it is taking BEIS so long to analyse responses. Open text is hard to query and turn into statistics.

PHSO failed to acknowledge the consultation document’s claim that “The UK officially adopted the metric system in stages between 1995 and 1999.” is factually wrong. It ignores the adoption of metric units by the Ordnance Survey, the Post Office and the Met Office long before 1995 and that the Metrication Programme started in 1965, thirty years earlier.

The document wrongly describes the Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform (TIGRR) as independent. It is a party-political body led by Conservative MPs, all of whose views were well known before they started their deliberations. It is not independent.

PHSO has decided to ignore the criticisms of the imperial units consultation on Metric Views and elsewhere. This can only be described as a whitewash.

4 thoughts on “PHSO whitewashes my BEIS complaint about imperial units consultation”

  1. Ronnie, full marks for your attempt. Like I’ve said before:
    ” The PHSO does have a sort of complaints procedure … However, it is highly unlikely anything will be achieved – except you wasting more time, effort, and perhaps expense – ‘hitting your head against a brick wall’- another headache! ”

    In your ‘FEEDBACK’ (ie. complaint) to the PHSO my suggestions are:
    (i) you direct it at the investigating officer – mentioning your ALL the specific points above eg. ‘Point 12 contradicts points 18 and 19.’ the failure of the officer to properly deal with these issues.
    And (ii) a general criticism of the PHSO.
    Your feedback/complaint MIGHT be published in an annual report which, I think, the PHSO publishes.
    Good luck, and pray for miracles!


  2. No surprises there then.
    Those of us that dared to challenge the government aka having time to waste, will know the futility of the endeavours, it is just a time wasting way of wasting time.
    I have long held the opinion that operation at grass roots level at least gives some local satisfaction.
    I refuse to communicate in imperial and always reply in SI. No one seems to object to this and most if not all agree that metric is what it should be, just they are in the same trap but have no inclination to escape.
    There is the problem, we need a means of escape, we will never remove the trap, miracles quite simply do not happen.
    A change of government may help, but unless we get some technical orientated MP’s of any flavour into government positions this will be a long haul. Completing metrication needs to be seen as part of the solution to our problems rather than being blamed as a troublesome burden of duplicity.


  3. So, summing up, the Government had already decided to reintroduce Imperial measurements, and the consultation was to decide how, not whether. Therefore the consultation was not a true test of opinion.

    Put another way – if you put the cart before the horse, then the horse must take directions from the cart.


  4. As Ronnie points out, the PHSO assertion that ““The UK officially adopted the metric system in stages between 1995 and 1999.” is factually wrong. I have dug out the Final Report of the Metrication Board – dated 1980 which can be found at The following extracts from Appendix A of the report shows how metrication was introduced into retail trade before 1981:

    1971 – – Pharmaceutical trade completes change to metric

    1975. Paint industry completes change to metric – DIY is part of the retail market.

    [1975] – Retailers of fabrics and floor coverings start to sell and price by the metre and square metre.

    [1975] – Post Office metricates tariffs

    1977 – Parliament passes Orders setting cut-off dates for sale of sugar, breakfast cereal foods, butter, margarine, white fats, oat products, cocoa and chocolate powders, biscuits, bread, chocolate bars and tea in imperial prepacks.

    1978 – Parliament passes Orders setting cut-off dates for pasta, dried vegetables, dried fruits, and flour in imperial prepacks , …

    [1978] – Solid fuel retailing goes metric.

    [1978] – Bread goes metric

    The report (para 2.5) stated “On 14 November 1979 the Minister announced that the Government had no plans for further compulsory Orders…”. This clearly contradicts the PHSO statement “Prior to 1995 metric units were permitted but not mandatory”.

    The image at show a jars of aspirin dated 1940-1970, each containing 5 grains [about 320 mg].


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