20th May 2022

UK Metrology: how NI measures up

On World Metrology day, Michelle Craig looks at how weights and measures services differ in Northern Ireland and what additional funding can help achieve

By Michelle Craig
This year's plan for metrology services in Northern Ireland focuses heavily on increased market surveillance responsibilities

Metrology, also known as Weights and Measures, is a core function of the UK’s consumer protection system – indeed, it’s where modern trading standards emerged. World Metrology Day is an important day for trading standards professionals and provides a time to reflect on where the profession has come from and where it is going.

While trading standards services face several current and emerging challenges throughout the UK, such as cuts to investment over the past decade and uncertainty about proposals to reintroduce imperial measures, the picture of metrology in Northern Ireland is quite different compared to the rest of the United Kingdom. For this World Metrology Day, CTSI looks at the current state of metrology in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland is unique within the United Kingdom in how its trading standards service is structured, along with the new responsibilities and challenges brought about by the current post-Brexit settlement in the form of the Northern Ireland Protocol (NIP). Also, unlike any other UK nation or region, it shares an international border with the Republic of Ireland and now, post-Brexit, with the EU.

Unlike the rest of the United Kingdom, where services are organised by local authorities, in Northern Ireland, metrology and other aspects of trading standards are centrally organised through Trading Standards Service Northern Ireland (TSSNI), an office within the Northern Irish Government’s Department for the Economy.

This year’s plan for metrology services in Northern Ireland focuses heavily on increased market surveillance responsibilities due to the NIP and the increasing cost of living, resulting in a dramatic rise in the prices of staple food products, fuel and oil.

The UK Government allocated TSSNI additional funding to meet these expanded responsibilities. The service recruited additional staff from this funding and now has a more formal market surveillance structure, with nine new Trainee Trading Standards Inspectors. The service plans for them to complete the Trading Standards Practitioner Diploma and become fully qualified Trading Standards Inspectors. The Trainee Inspectors will also spend time at TSSNI’s UKAS-accredited mass calibration laboratory, giving them the ideal hands-on metrology education needed for effective officers.

The service in Northern Ireland is also committed to cross-border collaboration. The nation serves as a key interlink between the UK’s domestic market and the EU, making international communication and collaboration vital for its operations. TSSNI engages with the Republic of Ireland’s National Standards Agency Ireland (NSAI) to share expertise and use collaborative training opportunities with several opportunities already identified.

The service hopes that TSSNI Inspectors will witness NSAI inspectors conduct bulk fuel inspections and expects to undertake a comparison between Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland bulk fuel testing equipment. This will be advantageous to both TSSNI and NSAI as these comparisons will provide crucial research to improve testing equipment and procedures on both sides of the border.

While TSSNI faces many of the same challenges trading standards and metrology departments face across the United Kingdom, alongside several unique to it, the service has received sustainable funding to meet those challenges head on.

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