Sunday, 23 August 2015

Pennies from the Heavens

The Weather Forecast is being put out to tender.

So the Meteorological Office has lost its contract with the BBC to provide and present the weather forecast. After 96 years, it seems it isn't cheap enough so the BBC are "going out to tender" to get better value for money.

Now, there have been a few spectacular mistakes over the years - viz of course Michael Fish's infamous reassurance that there was no hurricane coming in 1987, just before half the country was submerged in gales and floods of supposedly biblical proportions. But the science of weather has improved massively over the decades and the Met, itself a public body, has a global reputation as a paragon of good practice.

However, we live in Neoliberal Land, so, as with nearly everything now, even the weather has to be outsourced. Given that most public service contracts have a supposed split of 60% of the decision being made on quality of service and 40% on price (no one seems able to explain quite how that works in practice), the bids put against the tender may make interesting reading. Who will be putting them in? After all, there's not another Met Office out there and we are more likely to see some commercial organisation take it over. Indeed, on the ITV channels we already see that "the weather is sponsored by" a whole range of private companies - none of whom seem to be very successful at improving the climate.

What might we have ahead of us?

The Sun would be an obvious sponsor for the weather - but in Britain, could they deliver? Amazon could provide us a forecast of warm winds offshore, while the ubiquitous Crapita could give up half way through the shipping forecast when it turns out to be just a bit too difficult for the guy with the tea leaves to be sure if millions of tons of maritime capital should set sail or not.

Typically, when there was no public weather forecast, in 1854, the Government's Board of Trade established the Met as a public service to private maritime companies. Now, with the entire nation benefiting, it is time to sell it off, except that, as has been the case with most privatisation, privately outsourced weather forecasting is highly unlikely to match the Met. This has already been signalled by the fact that when it really counts, the BBC has given up on its new franchisees before they are even known. For severe weather events, it seems, the Corporation will still use the Met forecasts.

However, a concering coda, highlighted by Green Party Energy Speaker Cllr Andrew Cooper, is whether the BBC, now under massive pressure from the Tory Government on a range of issues from funding to editorial, will continue to look to the Met's global leadership on global warming. With a recent programme by rightwing commentator Quentin Letts controversially subverting the Met Office on this very issue with, to say the least, a questionable range of "information", there is a real concern that this major step will undermine the struggle for our planet's future.

What is more public than the weather and providing accurate information on its effects on everything from growing our food to what clothes to wear on a morning? And what should be less commodifiable by profit-seekers than our climate? But, in truth, who is surprised by this latest auctioning off of our society's assets?

So here is the Forecast -
Income swelling and heavy showers of profits expected in City areas. Dividends, good.
Severe public service failure across the UK. Imminent.


1 comment:

  1. My heart sank when I heard this news yesterday. This sinister move is all part of the process of disinformation on climate change. By removing the Met Office from its public-facing role, the scientifically respected organisation will wither and die. When rising sea levels finally overcome us, we won't know the reason for this any longer. Climate change denial becomes a cultural anaesthetic. A blessing????