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.
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.
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 email@example.com. 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