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United Kingdom The Almighty Buck Science

Met Office Loses BBC Weather Forecasting Contract 119

An anonymous reader writes: UK weather forecasts could be run on computers in New Zealand, as the BBC announced that the UK Met Office lost a forecasting contract it held for almost 100 years. The Guardian reports: "The Met Office has lost the contract it has held for close to a century to provide weather forecasts to the BBC, bringing to an end one of the longest relationships in British media. The broadcaster said it was legally required to open up the contract to outside competition in order to secure the best value for licence fee payers. The meteorological service said it was disappointed by the BBC’s decision to put out to tender the contract, which has been in place since the corporation’s first radio weather bulletin on 14 November 1922. Steve Noyes, operations and customer services director at the Met Office, said: 'Nobody knows Britain’s weather better and, during our long relationship with the BBC, we’ve revolutionised weather communication to make it an integral part of British daily life.'"
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Met Office Loses BBC Weather Forecasting Contract

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  • Tender (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Alioth ( 221270 ) <no@spam> on Tuesday August 25, 2015 @05:34AM (#50386355) Journal

    Can't the Met Office submit a tender themselves?

    • Re:Tender (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 25, 2015 @05:43AM (#50386389)

      Can't the Met Office submit a tender themselves?

      They did but they are not on the shortlist. So, unless all the candidates strike out and they have to restart, it's 'someone other than the Met Office'.

      • by Zocalo ( 252965 )
        Is that *definitely* the case? The details are all rather vague, but I get the impression the Met Office didn't make the BBC's preferred shortlist, not that they are completely out of the running already. e.g. it's a statement along the lines of "these are the front runners after the first stage, the rest of you need to either pull your socks up or stop wasting everyone's time and pull out."
        • No, its definitely the case - only the short listed bidders proceed to the detail stages, all other bidders are rejected.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        I wonder what will happen if the other provider disagrees with the Met Office's warnings.

        • I'd imagine they'd be obliged to broadcast them regardless, and if their forecast disagrees so wildly that they think a Met Office severe warning weather is completely invalid, then they're probably not very good at forecasting.

          That's assuming they do any real forecasting of their own. They might just beef up Met Office forecasts.

    • by Zocalo ( 252965 )
      If it's the open tender they claim it will be, then there shouldn't be any reason why not - and they might even win it if they can bring their costs down to something the BBC can accept. The real story appears to be that the Met Office's effectively automatic contract renewal has been terminated because they were asking for too much money and it will be replaced by a competitive fixed-term tender (I'm actually surprised this isn't already the case), not that the tender itself is already done and dusted as
      • That's not the real story. The Met Office have all ready been knocked out.

        It's stupid, ideology driven nonsense. They are both effectively state organisations. Far better for Britain that the money the BBC spends on forecasts stays in Britain, rather than enriches a foreign commercial enterprise.

        What the state BBC has gained, the state Met Office has lost. Pointless.

        • The BBC recently have been forced to take on spending that they would otherwise not have to take on - for example, several of the regional channels for Wales, Cornwall and Scotland now fall under normal BBC funding rather than direct government grants (and the BBC don't receive extra funding for these channels, so its a net reduction in their funding), and the BBC TV License is now free for older persons (again without extra funding, so its again a net reduction in their funding).

          So its no surprise if they

          • Tenders never include the full cost. This is one quango stopping working with another quango. This is losing British jobs for foreign jobs. The cost of any welfare isn't in the tender. The loss of capability for the Met Office, which is also used by other government departments isn't in the tender. The saving on one hand is a loss on the other.

          • The license has been free for older folks for as long as I can remember; I'm fairly sure "older" in this context means over eighty. What's different now (or may be soon) is that the BBC will no longer receive additional funding to make up for those free licenses.
        • That's not the real story. The Met Office have all ready been knocked out.

          It's stupid, ideology driven nonsense. They are both effectively state organisations. Far better for Britain that the money the BBC spends on forecasts stays in Britain, rather than enriches a foreign commercial enterprise.

          What the state BBC has gained, the state Met Office has lost. Pointless.

          Exactly, the Tories don't want either the BBC or the Met Office to be state organisations. The more they can turn them into pseudo-businesses, the sooner they can sell them off to their City friends at a knock down price.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The Met Office priced themselves out of the process. They got cocky and assumed they'd always get the contract. When companies have work from a given client for so long, they tend to get complacent. Now they're using all the PR and calling in favours from the media to kick up a fuss so the public feels sorry for them. Tough tittles! They can always make a more competitive bid the next time around.

      I worked at a site where IBM did exactly the same thing, but they didn't even bother to bid on time, coming in a

      • Re:Tender (Score:4, Interesting)

        by michelcolman ( 1208008 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2015 @06:44AM (#50386523)

        Are they just competing on price, or does quality get factored in somehow? Otherwise, I'd like to make a bid: for only a quarter of what the Met Office was charging, I will provide a forecast for England every day. Rain in the morning, followed by rain in the afternoon, then some more rain in the evening and during the night. Can't go wrong with that. Where do I apply?

        • Forecasting the exact weather for specific parts of the UK must be very challenging. Look, a bunch of rain-bearing cloud is coming in from the south-west (almost always the case). But how fast will the wind carry it? When will it actually dump some rain? Will it go straight over Town X, or dodge sideways and miss it by 10 miles?

          That said, I have been appalled for many years by the BBC/Met Office forecasts. I try to walk every morning, but I won't usually go out if it is already raining or about to start. Ma

        • by jeremyp ( 130771 )

          I used to know somebody who worked with the Met Office at one point, and she said (NB this anecdote is 20 years old, so it may be wrong now as technology has moved on) that the Met Office weather forecast is right about 75% of the time, but if you just say "the weather will be the same as it was yesterday" you'll be right about 80% of the time.

  • We've developed 300 new words for rain!

  • "IT'S GONNA RAIN."
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Given how appallingly useless and invariably inaccurate the weather forecasts are here in NZ, I can only imagine this was a desperate cost cutting ploy by the BBC - perhaps due to lost Top Gear revenues.

    • Not due to last Top Gear revenues. Although that can't help.
      It's down to a long term hatred of the BBC by the Conservatives on ideological grounds. Even though the BBC is one of the best broadcasters in the world, the neo-liberals can't stand to see public bodies, and they want to privatise it. However the public don't want that, so instead they are killing the BBC with cuts.

      • "However the public don't want that, so instead they are killing the BBC with cuts".

        Mayhap. If so, there's a long way to go. Last time I heard - a few years ago - I was aghast to hear that the BBC had some 40 "executives" who were paid more than the Prime Minister. While that's not a huge amount in business terms, it's ridiculously excessive for a broadcaster. Especially since the BBC's actual work would probably go ahead much more quickly and smoothly without those executives, who do little except hold mee

    • Given how appallingly useless and invariably inaccurate the weather forecasts are here in NZ

      That's because you're using the MetService one. Use MetVUW [metvuw.com] instead.

      Alternatively, put it to the test and see. I once spent a week tracking the actual weather vs. reports from the MetService, MetVUW, Google Weather, Wunderground, and a few others. The MetService came pretty much dead last, Wunderground and Google Weather were pretty good. MetVUW just gives you all the data you need to sort it out yourself so it's in a slightly different class, but I usually use that to check what the flying will be like.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by DrXym ( 126579 )
      The BBC still owns Top Gear and who knows, perhaps it will turn out that Jeremy Clarkson wasn't indispensable after all.
      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        I have no doubt that Top Gear could continue to be great without Clarkson et. al, but only if they get the right people in. Chris Evans is not the right people.

        • I have no doubt that Top Gear could continue to be great without Clarkson et. al, but only if they get the right people in. Chris Evans is not the right people.

          The main problem with Chris Evans is that despite his ability to grin a lot, he appears to have no actual sense of humour.

          At least Clarkson, Hammond and May were funny.

      • by Drathos ( 1092 )

        For me, it wasn't Clarkson, per se, but the chemistry between the three of them. I enjoyed the show, and only a little of that enjoyment came from the cars. It was mostly Clarkson, May, and Hammond.

        Now they've got Chris Evans replacing Clarkson and probably a pair of unknowns joining him (open auditions). It's going to take a while for any sort of chemistry to build. I fear it's going to be like Top Gear USA which, at least initially, was trying to copy Top Gear UK with 3 guys who had zero chemistry. I

  • by msobkow ( 48369 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2015 @06:07AM (#50386439) Homepage Journal

    I'd say the Met became complacent if they haven't made the short list. Either they're charging too much for what they do, or they aren't doing it as well as the competitors who submitted tenders.

    Either way, losing the contract is their own damn fault. No business can ever afford to assume a long term customer will continue to be a customer unless they have a monopoly.

    • Re:Complacency (Score:5, Insightful)

      by RabidReindeer ( 2625839 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2015 @06:38AM (#50386499)

      I'd say the Met became complacent if they haven't made the short list. Either they're charging too much for what they do, or they aren't doing it as well as the competitors who submitted tenders.

      Or they might be doing it better than anyone else, but they figure that a premium service should command a premium price and the BBC's bean counters wanted Lower Prices Everyday[TM] just like on their kid's toys, milk and pet food.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        The Met Office doesn't provide value for money. Their forecasts on the BBC are terrible. They boast about how they have improved the delivery of weather information to the public, but actually their method is one of the worst.

        A BBC report has a map that the camera flies over, while a presenter talks. They don't generally use percentage chances of rain, they just say vague things like "scattered showers" or even worse "it will rain". They try to go around the country giving a short term forecast, then come b

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Fact: The Met Office is the most successful weather forecasting organization on the planet.

          Fact: The BBC reports are created by the BBC from Met Office data, not by the Met Office themselves.

          Fact: The Met Office have been trying to encourage the BBC to report probabilities as you suggest, and the BBC have said people are too dumb to understand that. This is stated as one of the points of friction which caused the Met Office to lose the contract.

          Fact: You shouldn't comment on topics you neither know anythin

          • "Fact: The Met Office is the most successful weather forecasting organization on the planet".

            If so, the others must be pretty God-awful.

          • Fact: The Met Office is the most successful weather forecasting organization on the planet.

            Yep, they sure are. Some of my clothes still haven't dried out from the marvellous barbeque summer [dailymail.co.uk] they forecast a few years ago. And it wasn't just once, they forecast three of them in a row. Holy fsck, even a coin-toss would have been right at least one of those times.

            Oh wait, you said "successful", not "accurate". Well that's certainly true, when it comes to raking in the dough [dailymail.co.uk] and splurging at taxpayers expense [express.co.uk] they've certainly got things sewn up.

        • They don't generally use percentage chances of rain, they just say vague things like "scattered showers" or even worse "it will rain".

          That's exactly the bollocks the NZ MetService does as well, hiding the actual data in useless generalisations. Maybe the BBC went looking for an organisation whose forecasting sucks as much as the UK MetService, and decided the NZ MetService fit the bill.

          (There was an evaluation done some time in the 1970s or 1980s - can't find the study right now so I can't cite it, sorry - about effective presentation of weather data, things like "a chance of rain tomorrow" vs. "45% chance of rain between 3pm and 5pm tom

          • things like "a chance of rain tomorrow" vs. "45% chance of rain between 3pm and 5pm tomorrow"

            Maybe I'm just not enough of a weather geek, but what does saying that there's a "45% chance of rain between 3pm and 5pm tomorrow" actually tell you that's useful?

            If I'm planning anything weather-dependent (say a barbecue between 3pm and 5pm) then I would only be interested in something along the lines of "there's a 90% chance it will be sunny for those two hours, a 10% chance it will be cloudy and a 0% chance of rain".

            Predicting a 45% (or 38% or 56%) chance of rain is of no more value than saying it mi

        • by jeremyp ( 130771 )

          BBC != Met Office.

          I doubt if the BBC map and the presentation has much at all to do with the Met Office, who just supply the actual forecasts. The Met Office weather app for the iPhone has a pretty horrible UI but it does give accurate weather forecasts.

  • by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2015 @06:23AM (#50386467)
    This could be one case where a tender doesn't make sense. The Met Office is obliged to give weather warnings, provide shipping weather information, etc. and if the BBC is cross-funding that then going elsewhere just means the government will have to give the Met Office more money directly. So now the public are funding the BBC to pay another company, and the Met Office too.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      This could be one case where a tender doesn't make sense.

      The EU tender rules activate at 249000 EUR contracts, last time I checked, so if the BBC is still tied to the rules by being a partially publicly funded company, they may not have had another option.

    • According to this [wikipedia.org] most of the money comes from taxes goes to fund BBC World Service to Commonwealth and foreign nations so there is no cross funding with the Met.

      According to the BBC's 2013/14 Annual Report, its total income was £5 billion (£5,066.0 million),[1] which can be broken down as follows:
      £3,726.1 million in licence fees collected from householders;
      £1,023.2 million from the BBC's Commercial Businesses;
      £244.6 million from government grants, of which £238.5 million is from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for the BBC World Service;
      £72.1 million from other income, such as rental collections and royalties from overseas broadcasts of programming.

      • by Chrisq ( 894406 )

        According to this [wikipedia.org] most of the money comes from taxes goes to fund BBC World Service to Commonwealth and foreign nations so there is no cross funding with the Met.

        According to the BBC's 2013/14 Annual Report, its total income was £5 billion (£5,066.0 million),[1] which can be broken down as follows: £3,726.1 million in licence fees collected from householders; £1,023.2 million from the BBC's Commercial Businesses; £244.6 million from government grants, of which £238.5 million is from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for the BBC World Service; £72.1 million from other income, such as rental collections and royalties from overseas broadcasts of programming.

        Ultimately the money for government grants and license fees comes from us (British citizens) though, as does funding to the met.

    • That may be similar to the situation in Germany.

      The state run Met Office equivalent lost their contracts with (public) TV station after failing to predict a severe storm that was forecasted correctly by another TV weather forecasting company:http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/print/d-21662473.html

      IIRC, as a result, the DWD underwent some restructering

      • All forecasters get it wrong sometimes. It's an art as much as it's a science. And certainly the Met Office have too. Though it's famous mistake in not predicting a storm was back in the 1980s, and everything has changed since then.

        Although we like to complain about poor forecasts, they're pretty damn good these days. And the MEt Office certainly is the British public's trusted forecaster.

        • "All forecasters get it wrong sometimes. It's an art as much as it's a science".

          Well, the BBC (which uses Met Office data) gets it wrongly consistently, week after week. And if it's an art as much as a science, it must be the only art that requires the use of £97 million supercomputers.

          • Sorry, typo. Should read:

            "Well, the BBC (which uses Met Office data) gets it wrong consistently, week after week".

          • Yes, it is the only art that requires that level of supercomputers. And the forecast isn't wrong nearly as often as you imagine. You're living in the past.

        • by jeremyp ( 130771 )

          Though it's famous mistake in not predicting a storm was back in the 1980s

          All they got wrong was the track of the storm. They thought it would track further South than it did and only devastate parts of France.

    • What? Don't be soft. The government can see the Met Office's budget and cut it accordingly. I'm sure it will as it already wastes £250,000,000 a year on this ridiculous organisation.
  • If they source it to the Spanish weather service, maybe the weather across the UK will improve! I heard their forecasts are much better! :-) Scorcio!
    • If they source it to the Spanish weather service, maybe the weather across the UK will improve! I heard their forecasts are much better! :-) Scorcio!

      I doubt the Spanish would have enough little pictures of clouds.

  • So now the British taxpayer's money will go out of the country to (possibly) New Zealand whereas it used to go into other British taxpayers pockets who paid British taxes which went back into the British Treasury. Straight Thatcherism con-job - sounds like you're getting a bargain but we're giving your money to strangers.
    • What is wrong with your brain? The important thing is the end product. If the Met Office want the contract back (as they surely must), they'll have to innovate and become better at predicting the weather and producing the forecasts.

      Yes, pure Thatcherism - competition results in a general improvement of conditions.
  • They're basically two government agencies... one sending another a bill but both of them ultimately sustained with tax dollars. So... lower the "bill".

    its not like the met office needs to make to make a profit or in fact needs to make anything off that fee. What is more, organizations don't have to change every customer the same amount for a given service.

    If I'm selling apples, I can sell the same apples to John for 1 pound and to Tim I can change him 1000 pounds.

    So... lower the price the met is charging to

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It's been done a few times before. Frequently ITV will buy from other than the Met Office and its forcasts have generally been worse.

    Problematically, it;'s STILL considered "the Met Office got it wrong AGAIN" because they're the weather men and the weather report is from weather men, so it must be the Met Office.

    The Met Office will still be paid because the MOD need the services of a full observing network and most (probably the vast majority) of the weather related costs are for that, and the computer use

  • So the government fat cats, got lazy, complacent, and entitled. Failed to compete in the market, and that is supposed to be a bad thing??

  • Weather forecast need an infrastructure of weather stations. Given that they are properties of the weather forecast companies, competition means replicating the same infrastructure, or more likely divide it since there will not be more money flowing to the whole industry to duplicate weather stations.

    Competition will therefore not bring a better service here. A solution could be to create a public service for collecting data, and leave competition to interpretation of the data. Or just do not leave that fie

  • by Budenny ( 888916 ) on Wednesday August 26, 2015 @06:46AM (#50393889)
    The Met Office is firmly convinced that the planet is warming and that this is leading to an increase in extreme weather events. It is already hard enough to forecast the UK weather because of the constant stream of fronts coming in from the Atlantic, the varying high and low pressure systems.

    In my fairly frequent visits to the UK, I notice that they are typically right short term during stable weather periods and not much good during disturbed periods. They often get the transitions wrong. That would all be excusable given the uncertainties.

    The longer term however is a different matter. What is not excusable is the issuing of disastrously wrong forecasts of warm winters or warm dry summers, when what actually arrives is freezing cold winter or a cold and very wet summer with floods. These crazy longer range forecasts are not based on any evidence or coherent theory, just a view that the planet is warming and so the weather in the UK must be getting warmer, and so it will be warmer this winter, won't it?

    Well, no. The planet is not warming particularly, and the UK climate is not warming particularly either. It is just continuing to fluctuate randomly in a wide range as it always has, and there are quite often fairly extreme winters and summers.

    The BBC like the Guardian of which it is in some ways the broadcast voice has been committed to catastrophic global warming in its most extreme form - including the full buy-in to a rise in warming-caused extreme weather events. But the public ridicule that the Met Office forecasts have come in for, and the rather obvious bias in them introduced by the global warming advocacy has made the Met Office a liability. When they forecast a 'barbecue summer' just before the heavens open and the country floods, they wreck their credibility. The BBC is probably, under the new government, also seeking to move away from wholehearted endorsement of global warming and has, to the horror of advocates, started to broadcast some sceptical points of view.

    This is said to be a large part of why the Met Office had to go.

    Incidentally, on my recent visit we had the amusing spectacle of the left wing contender for leader of the Labour Party, a Party which is ideologically firmly committed to the full global warming alarmist tendency, proposing to open the UK coal mines again! The previous leader was of course the architect of the Climate Act, by which UK CO2 emissions would fall to some 10% of present levels. The Guardian is running a campaign to leave all fossil fuels in the ground. But, you see, those working class mining villages had a wonderful sense of community, and we have to have a revanche against the Thatcherite victory during the miners strike. In the minds of some in England it is still 1980 and everything is left to play for.

    So they are going to do their bit for climate change by reopening those mines, at the same time as they convert their power plants to wood pellets sourced in the US nominally in order to lower those same emissions. What are they going to do with the coal? Who knows. One doubts they have thought that far ahead.

    Its not an accident that this is the country which gave birth to Monty Python.
    • When they forecast a 'barbecue summer' just before the heavens open and the country floods, they wreck their credibility.

      Even if this were true (and it isn't - the "barbecue summer" was a selective misquote from one broadcaster, not the official Met Office position) short term weather forecasting is not the same thing as long term climate change modelling.

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