Standardisation explained.

Standardisation is the process of creating, issuing and implementing standards. A standard is a document, established by consensus and approved by a recognised body. It provides rules, guidelines or characteristics for activities or their results so that they can be repeated. The aim is to achieve the greatest degree of order in a given context.

Standards should provide a reliable basis for people to share the same expectations about a product or service. This helps to:

  • facilitate trade
  • provide a framework for achieving economies, efficiencies and interoperability
  • enhance consumer protection and confidence

Standards can be supported through measurement, testing, certification, and accreditation.

Standardisation is one of the key components of the UK’s National Quality Infrastructure (NQI), along with measurement, market surveillance, and conformity assessment and accreditation. Overall, the NQI makes a significant contribution to the economy, health and safety, and the environment.

Why standards are important

Standards support many government policies. Examples include:

  • competitiveness
  • fair trading
  • protection of consumer interests, the environment and sustainability
  • regulatory compliance

Standards can support and promote innovation. They create a common framework that encourages the sharing of knowledge. This reduces the need for duplication during research and development.

Standards contribute to productivity because they:

  • increase efficiency by improving processes
  • reduce cost by minimising waste and cutting out the time spent on ‘trial and error’
  • allow production at scale by replacing bespoke variety with standardised solutions, performance or outcomes, freeing resources for differentiating products and services from those of competitors
  • lower the cost of regulatory compliance and the costs of non-compliance
  • shorten the time to market of new products

Standardisation provides a competitive edge in the marketplace, particularly for small and medium-sized businesses, as proving compliance with an accepted standard can replace the power of a big brand.

Government’s role in standardisation

The Department for Business and Trade (DBT) is responsible for UK government general policy on everything to do with standards-making (but not on specific individual standards). We improve the standards infrastructure so that it meets the needs of UK industry and makes processes more relevant and business friendly.

We sponsor, and work closely with, the British Standards Institution (BSI). DBT is responsible for the government’s relations with BSI and partially supports BSI’s standards development work. This includes support for delegations representing the UK at overseas standards meetings and for consumer representation in standards-making activities. This is vital to ensure standards reflect the needs and expectations of the general public.

Find out more about consumer representation and BSI’s Consumer and Public Interest Network on the BSI website.

DCMS leads the government’s work on digital standards and DBT Better Regulation Executive leads on using standards as an alternative to regulation.

British Standards Institution (BSI)

BSI is an independent body formed in 1901, established by Royal Charter.

BSI and DBT recognise that there is public interest in standardisation. BSI is the UK’s national standards body (NSB), responsible for the UK publication, in English, of international and European standards.

BSI has a Memorandum of Understanding (PDF, 250 KB, 13 pages) (MOU) with DBT’s predecessor, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. It provides a framework for BSI and the government to meet the challenges to the UK’s standards-making infrastructure, and recognises BSI is the UK’s national standards body (NSB), responsible for the UK publication, in English, of international and European standards.

Economic benefits of standardisation

Independent research on the economic contribution of standards to the UK economy and businesses finds that standards boost UK productivity, kick-start innovation, and support UK domestic and international trade.

Read a comprehensive study on the economic benefits of standards looking at economic data from 1921-2013, commissioned by BSI and conducted by independent experts at the Centre of Economics and Business Research.

International standardisation policy

International standards support trade policy while helping to maintain the UK’s flexible and pro-competitive regulatory model. In our trade negotiations, we promote the use of international standards, and we will continue to ensure the safety and quality of products on sale in the UK, recognising the important role that international standards play. As a committed supporter of the World Trade Organization, the UK will continue to base its product safety regulations on these standards.

The international standards system is independent of the European Union, the United Nations, and any other inter-governmental organisation. Within this system, the UK occupies a strong leadership position, as a founder of the standards organisations the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). A significant number of important international standards committees are managed by the UK. Through standards, British businesses, including SMEs, and British consumers shape decisions that are taken by businesses on every continent.

Government supports the “single national standard model” whereby the UK’s National Standards Body, BSI, will lead the development, agree, and then adopt international standards as British Standards, withdrawing conflicting national standards to give a coherent national catalogue. Similarly, it will represent the UK’s interests in the European regional standards bodies of CEN and CENELEC.

Designated standards

Following the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020, businesses can now use ‘designated standards’ to provide presumption of conformity with GB law.

Read information about designated standards

Published 21 August 2020