Published Friday, October 23, 2015
A Westminster Hall debate on the BBC’s relationship with the Met Office has been scheduled for Tuesday 27 October 2015 at 1430hrs. The Member in charge of the debate is Mr Ben Bradshaw.
The following information has been compiled in preparation for the debate on the BBC’s relationship with the Met Office. It provides a brief history of the relationship between the BBC and the Met Office and a summary of the recent announcement that the Met Office had lost the contract to provide the BBC with data for its weather forecasts. Also included are links to relevant media articles and a selection of recent Parliamentary Questions on this topic as an attached document.
The Met Office and the BBC
The Met Office (or Meteorological Office as it was formerly known) was set up in 1854 as a small department under the Board of Trade. Led by the naval captain Robert FitzRoy, the aim was to establish meteorology as a science and provide weather forecasts in order to protect the safety of ships and their crews at sea.
The BBC first broadcast a radio weather bulletin on 14 November 1922, and ever since data from the UK’s weather service has been used to produce the BBC’s weather forecasts.
Loss of Contract
On 23 August, it was announced in the press that the Met Office had lost the contract to provide the BBC with weather data for its forecasts. This was later confirmed by the BBC. The Met Office said it was ‘disappointed’ by the decision.
The contract will end in October 2016, and the shortlist for the new contract is said to include Meteo Group – a private forecasting business begun in the Netherlands – and Metra Weather, the commercial arm of New Zealand’s Met Office.
According to the Financial Times, the BBC currently pays the Met Office £3 million per year. The Met Office has a total turnover £220m, so the loss of the BBC contract is unlikely to have a massive financial impact.
Some people have raised concerns over the wider effects of this change. Mr Ben Bradshaw was quoted in the Telegraph as saying that the relationship between the Met Office and the BBC went further than simply weather forecasting: it concerned the interests of the country in terms of defence, security and national resilience. ‘Handing out contracts to overseas companies could have security implications’, he said. ‘The BBC is answerable to Parliament and I would have expected that ministers should have been consulted about this decision… It really should have gone up to Number 10.’
The Shipping Forecast
The Shipping Forecast is subject to a separate arrangement, and the BBC will continue to broadcast the Shipping Forecast using data supplied by the Met Office as well as the Met Office’s severe weather warnings.
Statement by the BBC
On the 23 August 2015, the BBC confirmed that the Met Office had lost the contract. The BBC issued the following statement:
Our viewers get the highest standard of weather service and that won’t change. We are legally required to go through an open tender process and take forward the strongest bids to make sure we secure both the best possible service and value for money for the licence fee payer. Our graphics are already supplied by another provider and our long standing relationship with the Met Office will continue as we intend to still broadcast their severe weather warnings.
Response by the Met Office
Following the announcement of this decision, John Kettley, a former BBC weather presenter, made assertions to the media that the Met Office had lost its contract due to the amount of money it was demanding. Speaking on BBC radio, he said that at a time when the BBC was seeing a reduction in its budget, the Met Office’s demands for ‘more and more money each time the contract has come up for renewal’ meant that inevitably the contract would be put out to tender.
However, the Met Office, in a piece on their blog, said that there was a lot of misinformation being circulated, particularly in relation value for money:
…it has been suggested that the Met Office charges the BBC £30 million a year. This, in fact, is the total of our commercial revenue from a wide range of customers…we receive only a small fraction of that amount for our presenter services to the BBC.
The contract was, according to the Met Office, never about the money.
Following the announcement that the Met Office had lost the contract to provide the BBC weather service, an e-petition was created on Parliament’s Petitions Website. The petition calls for it to be a statutory requirement that the BBC weather forecasts be provided by the Met Office. However, with fewer than 300 signatures, the petition has not attracted much interest and has not reached the 10,000 required for the Government to respond.
The following is a small selection of relevant media articles relating to this debate.
Please note: the Library is not responsible for either the views or the accuracy of external content.
- BBC News, Met Office loses BBC weather forecasting contract, 23 August 2015
- The Telegraph, Met Office ‘lost BBC contract over dumbing down rows and weather app’, 23 August 2015
- The Guardian, Met Office wanted too much money from BBC, says John Kettley, 24 August 2015
- Financial Times, Met Office eyes legal action over BBC tendering decision, 24 August 2015
- Independent, Met Office lost BBC contract due to ‘arguments over dumbing down and their bad weather app’, 24 August 2015
- Independent, The BBC’s decision to axe the Met Office could be the end for accurate weather forecasting worldwide, 26 August 2015
- The Guardian, BBC contract was never about the money, insists Met Office, 28 August 2015
- The Telegraph, Met Office sacked by the BBC – but the truth is even odder, 29 August 2015
Since the announcement of the decision relating to the Met Office’s contract with the BBC, there have been a series of questions asked in Parliament. The relevant PQs have been found usingParliamentary Search and are provided in the accompanying pdf document at the foot of this page.
Debate packs are intended to provide a summary or overview of the issues being debated and identify any relevant briefings including press and parliamentary material. A more detailed briefing may be prepared for a Member on request to the Library.
 Financial Times, Met Office eyes legal action over BBC tendering decision, 24 August 2015.
 The Telegraph, Met Office ‘lost BBC contract over dumbing down rows and weather app’, 23 August 2015