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ANTI-CONSUMER GROUPS
(Footrule Jan 2001)

In its pro-metrication propaganda the Department of Trade and Industry makes great play of the alleged support for official policy from "Consumer Groups".

For instance, a widely circulated DTI paper, designed for public consumption, states: "The Government announcement in 1965 that the UK would go metric in stages was based primarily on the commercial needs of the manufacturing industry. Thereafter, the consumer groups have accepted metrication as inevitable. Their focus of attention has been to argue that the change to metric should take place with the minimum of inconvenience to consumers. In this respect, consumer groups have been critical of what they see as the slow pace of completing metrication in the UK since 1965".

Who these groups are is a mystery to the overwhelming majority of consumers. How they are constituted, how their leaders or representatives are elected or appointed and - most important of all - how they are funded, are even greater mysteries. As to the opening sentence of the above quotation, of course, there was no such "Government announcement in 1965" that had any Parliamentary authority. The first publication by any government was the 1972 White Paper which assured the nation that metrication would always remain a voluntary process. Any pretence that commerce and industry either demanded to be compelled to go metric (which they have been free to do voluntarily ever since 1897), or demanded that their customers should be compelled to go metric, is utterly ludicrous.

However, these persistent official falsehoods arouse grave doubts concerning the integrity of the so-called "consumer groups".

Vicki Gardner is heading a BWMA investigation into this sinister area, with help from Pamela Shaw-Hesketh and others. The role of the so-called consumer associations in the process of compulsory metrication has been overlooked. Preliminary findings confirm our worst suspicions. It is clear that these groups, so far from reflecting public opinion, are merely mouthpieces of government policy.

For instance, the same DTI paper states: "As regards the apparent anomaly between surveys that identify public dislike for metrication and surveys by the National Federation of Consumer Groups and the Consumers in Europe Group that identify consumer preference in the way that metric units are used, survey findings are circumscribed by a number of factors. The factor include the size and composition of those interviewed, the questions asked, the overall balance of the questions, and how the answers were interpreted".
This last sentence is sheer eyewash, for the "apparent anomaly" has everything to do with the fact that the "Consumer Groups" ("CGs") and the actual consumers - ie the general public - were asked completely different questions.
The CGs were not asked whether they preferred imperial or metric measures, or whether they wanted imperial measures prohibited in favour of a metric monopoly - and chose to remain silent on the whole issue. Instead they were merely consulted as to the best means of introducing and enforcing metrication!

(Of course, exactly the same approach was adopted in the early 1960s when the FBI, now the CBI, was merely consulted on ways and means of imposing metrication, enabling the government to claim that industry was strongly supportive of the policy, on which actually it had not been invited to express any opinion.)

In contrast, the real consumers, in scientific surveys across the country, have been asked the direct questions in several independent surveys, conducted by professional market research companies, proving the intense unpopularity of the compulsory metrication. The DTI's paper, therefore, is not merely evasive but deliberately deceptive.

The main consumer groups are the Consumers Association and the National Consumer Council, as well as the National Federation of Consumer Groups and Consumers in Europe Group. All claim to be independent. The National Federation of Consumer Groups claims to represent the views of grass-roots members to government, Consumers in Europe Group's literature boasts that it is independent, accountable, representative and democratic, the National Consumer Council's remit includes "ensuring the consumer voice is heard", while the Consumers Association proclaims its commitment "to empowering people to make informed consumer decisions."

How were the mass of consumers empowered to make an informed decision whether or not to go metric? Perhaps the title of the Consumers Association magazine should be changed from "Which?" to "When?". How did the NCC consult its mass membership and ensure that their voice was heard, and how did the NFCC obtain a mandate from its grass-roots members with which to confront government? As events have proved, none of them made any attempt to fulfil its avowed purpose.

The NCC feebly told Vicki that they were too small to undertake research; the NFCC blustered that they had conducted such research several years ago but unfortunately those findings were not to hand; while Consumers in Europe Group admitted that only rarely did their budget permit carrying out national opinion surveys, yet that did not prevent them from - according to the DTI - "pressing for a rapid transition to the full use to the metric system" without consulting the public at all. Nor did it prevent them from claiming that their 25 member organisations endorsed the policy of rapid transition to metric measurement. To test this Vicki personally contacted 14 that were directly involved with consumers; of which only one (the NFCC, would you believe!) could express support for compulsory metrication. Of the other 13, most had no policy either way or actually disapproved of the policy.

For example, the National Council of Women of Great Britain stated that they had no policy on the subject but added: "However, I can safely say that, as an organisation of mainly older women, we deplore it". Likewise the National Federation of Retirement Pensions Associations responded: "A conference resolution in 1998 came out against ALL compulsory metrication. The rule on fresh goods is a particularly oppressive example. All good wishes." And the National Housewives Association responded: "We object to all EU measures which are not needed. It just masks price rises and confuses the older generation".

Now these are member organisations of the Consumers in Europe Group, which nevertheless informed Vicki that, "the Group first discussed metrication in the 1980s. The Group amended the then draft paper because they wanted to add a recommendation calling for rapid UK transition to use the metric system".

So clearly they had already come to a conclusion at the outset - a conclusion supporting government policy - long before consulting member organisations! Their reply to Vicki continued: "The Group has since discussed metrication on two further occasions in the light of legislative developments… and with members endorsing their previously agreed policy". That appears to be untrue.

As for the Consumers Association, which does seem to be a genuinely independent and aggressive body, a spokesman confirmed that it had never made any pronouncement on the issue or surveyed its vast membership as to a preference. Indeed, the view was that metrication is a political matter! So, according to the Consumers Association, whether shopping in pounds and ounces is to be made a criminal offence is no concern of consumers!

Now, will it surprise you to learn that the National Consumer Council is largely funded by grant-in-aid from the DTI, and that it has 14 part-time Council Members who are all appointed by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry?
Would it surprise you, either, that Consumers in Europe Group is also funded by the DTI through the NCC; its member organisations including the National Council of Women, in turn represented on the Women's National Commission, which is fully funded by government - whose Chairwoman, indeed, has herself served in four EU groups and has even been an MEP?

The NFCC appears to be finance largely by its own membership of about 1,500, helped by a grant of £15,000 from the DTI. How ironic that the only organisation not corrupted by government funding is the Consumers Association, and it carefully ducks the whole issue! Regarding all the other so-called consumer groups, it is evident that their role has been to promote the government's views to the consumer rather than -as they pretend - vice versa. They have done this at the consumer's expense.

So it has been a double deception: the CGs have used public money for metrication propaganda, without consulting the public and contrary to public opinion, while government justifies metrication by quoting the CG's propaganda. This is bureaucracy at its worst, combining scandalous misuse of tax revenue with abuse of administrative authority. Our investigation continues.

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