Met Office losing commercial customers

Earlier this month a report in the Sunday Express (published online late on 7th May) about the forecast for the Royal Wedding made a couple of interesting observations that prompted a blog post here on AM.

Firstly there was confirmation that the Met Office will pay performance-related bonuses this year which will push the total paid to its 1,800 staff in the last six years to almost £15million. Apparently these bonuses are based on profitability and when the Met Office meets its targets on forecasting accuracy.

Secondly there was a reminder that the majority of the Met Office’s £190million annual income comes from public funds by means of contracts to provide services to government departments and that critics say it is time to force it to compete in the open market against other forecasters.

It was these factoids that made me curious about the reality of the Met Office’s forecasting performance.  Do its executives really deserve the bonuses they are going to receive?

While the Met Office might like to aggressively counter stories like that in the Sunday Express, as it did on 9th May by claiming its forecast the day before the Royal Wedding was more accurate than the newspaper claimed, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.  Or in weather forecasting terms, seeing how many private customers are sufficiently satisfied with Met Office forecasts to continue buying services from them commercially.  So this blog submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Met Office asking them:

Please will you supply me with full details of:

1. The number of non-Governmental (private) customers purchasing
forecasting services from the Met Office in the years 2008, 2009
and 2010 respectively

2. The total revenue received from non-Governmental (private)
contracts for forecasting services provided by the Met Office in
the years 2008, 2009 and 2010 respectively

Please note I am not requesting details of the individual customers
or specifics of their contract terms.

It was a clear enough request.  However, the Met Office’s reply seemed to be trying to conceal something:

The number of commercial customers purchasing services from the Met Office over the three year period would show us whether the customer base is stable, rising or falling.  The number of commercial customers is a fair reflection of customer confidence in Met Office forecasts.  But the Met Office clearly did not want to deal in specifics.

So a follow up was sent asking that they provide me with the exact number of commercial customers in each of the three years specified as per my request.  Their reply arrived today:

While revenues (for the years where figures are available) have remained fairly constant, we can now see that since 2008-9 the Met Office commercial customer base has shrunk by 17.3%.

We can now see why the figures were not provided in response to the original request.  And this is happening against a backdrop of independent forecasters adding customers to their books.

Customers generally don’t leave specialist service providers that deliver good performance, so it is reasonable to assume that faith in Met Office forecasting is declining due to accuracy failings.  If performance is on the wane the question that must be answered is how can the Met Office’s executives continue to award themselves bonuses year on year?

Without the cushions and comfort blankets provided by guaranteed government contracts funded with our tax pounds one wonders how the Met Office would fare operating exclusively in the private sector.

11 Responses to “Met Office losing commercial customers”

  1. 1 Pirran 25/05/2011 at 11:16 pm

    Great FOI. I’m surprised they didn’t try to conceal more – perhaps they’re learning that concealment creates more adverse attention than less.

    I hope Booker picks this up. It would be great to see it promulgated in the MSM although, God knows, the Beeb won’t touch it with a barge pole.

  2. 2 Martin Brumby 26/05/2011 at 7:17 am

    It could, of course, in part be a reflection of increased charges (to pay for bigger bonuses!).

    But there is an absolutely obvious case for privatisaton.

    If Jeremy Grantham or someone wants to pay for warmist propaganda then let him. I don’t see why I should have to put up with their tendentious and incompetent forecasting and pay for their bloated salaries and pensions into the bargain.

  3. 3 Chris 26/05/2011 at 9:52 am

    “And this is happening against a backdrop of independent forecasters adding customers to their books.”

    Do you have figures for this ? Not challenging the thrust of this myself but someone will given the economic downturn, etc etc. :)

  4. 4 Autonomous Mind 26/05/2011 at 11:30 am

    Being private entities they are not bound by FOI legislation. I have gone by recent comments from the likes of WeatherAction, Joe Bastardi and PWS.

  5. 5 Steve 26/05/2011 at 1:02 pm

    There are many at the Met Office who believe that commercial revenues sully its hand and risk its reputation as a science organisation – I agree with this. The same people also believed that being a public service organisation, if a citizen asked for a product and the product cost about £100 to deliver, that the Met Office should charge about £100 for it.

    Gradually though these foolish socialist attitudes are being sloughed off by the management who have been trying to dump unprofitable revenue left right and centre. For example, I don’t think you find Met Office forecasts in newspapers much these days because they don’t pay much.

    So revenues will hopefully go up (and preaudit they look good this year), though customer numbers may go down. Perhaps you should ask for number of customers paying more than X hundred grand or something.

    Surely Piers would let you go over his books – perhaps he’s recruited a few more turnip growers worried about the prospect of drought.

  6. 6 microdave 26/05/2011 at 1:46 pm

    I wonder if the Met Office are supplying data to National Grid? A story in today’s Eastern Daily Press reveals that a new more accurate system of forecasting wind power will help cut pollution and save money. It’s not in the online edition, so here’s a scanned version.

  7. 7 Anoneumouse 26/05/2011 at 5:25 pm

    One hopes you have forwarded this to a newspaper or a press agency.

  8. 8 Monty 28/05/2011 at 1:32 pm

    Hark at Steve the Shill!

    Are you an official Met Office spokesman now or just making money off the back of their tax payer funded activities?

  9. 9 Steve 28/05/2011 at 4:02 pm

    As Mr “Nightingale” has obviously got a thing about the Met Office I don’t see why I shouldn’t put in my own anonymous mind’s 2p worth. As these are my own views and as they don’t agree with the official lines I am not a shill even if I do not disguise my allegiance.

  10. 10 Donny Mac 02/07/2011 at 7:24 pm

    Interesting FOI. Suspect the revenues have remained steady when client numbers drop off as a result of the Met Office moving some revenues into their ‘commercial’ sector e.g. BBC – until it went to tender, it would not have been considered commercial. Doubt the BBC revenues would make much of an impact in any case as rumour has it that the Met Office are doing this contract at cost.

    Losing so many commercial customers must be a concern to them though. I can’t believe the drop is totally down to them ditching unprofitable business.

  1. 1 Met Office’s pathetic self justification and lack of attention to detail « Autonomous Mind Trackback on 25/06/2011 at 12:54 pm
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