NZ MetService in running for UK forecast contract

By Edward Gay

MetService is in the running for a BBC weather forecasting contract.

The State-Owned Enterprise is understood to be brokering the deal through its commercial arm - Metra.

MetService is not commenting on the deal but a spokesman for the Minister for State-Owned Enterprises, Simon Power, has confirmed to nzherald.co.nz that MetService is in negotiations with the BBC to provide some forecasting services.

The spokesman said Mr Power would not comment further because the negotiations are an "operational matter".

The Guardian is reporting that the BBC contract has been put out to tender for the first time since 1923.

The Times Online has reported that the BBC is considering ending its 90-year contract with The British Met Office, after continued complaints about inaccurate weather forecasts.

The Times Online article also states that the broadcaster has begun talks with Metra.

The British Met Office predicted a "barbecue summer" last year and a mild winter this year, both of which turned out to be completely inaccurate.

Britain is currently experiencing its worst winter in 30 years.

In the Scottish Highlands, temperatures have plunged to minus 22 degrees Celsius in the last week.

A poll for The Sunday Times showed that 74 per cent of people believe the Met Office's forecasts are generally inaccurate.

The paper reported that Metra already produces graphics for the BBC, including a 3-D weather map that made some viewers feel sick when it was introduced in 2005.

The Times reports that Weather Commerce, Metra's UK subsidiary, already supplies forecasts to UK shopping giants Tesco, Sainsbury's, Marks & Spencer and Waitrose.

"Metra has been negotiating with the BBC since September, when a new tender document, seen by The Sunday Times, was sent to forecasters. It stated that the corporation was seeking a single forecaster to provide meteorological data and presenters for five years."

An unamed source close to Metra is reported in the paper as saying: "The BBC is not happy with the service it has been getting from the Met Office; it thinks it's too expensive. We have the ability to provide a bespoke service that will undercut it. Because we already produce the graphics we've got a foot in the door, so we're optimistic."

The Telegraph reports that the elderly in particular have suffered, with more than 3000 people aged 75- to 84-years-old dying in a week.

MetService chief executive Paul Reid told the commerce select committee at Parliament in October last year that the weather bureau gets half of its income from one big Ministry of Transport contract for weather forecasts.

"That's always a risk - but for us it also provides a really stable platform for the business to grow, when you know you have got a really large anchor customer there," Mr Reid said.

There were still three years to run on the contract, Mr Reid told National list MP Katrina Shanks, who asked during a financial review of the MetService what risks were attached to having so much business tied to one client.

"If the MOT wished to go to market with it, they could, but there would have to be a compelling reason for it," he said.

The BBC has been contacted for comment but has so far not replied.

- with NEWSTALK ZB

- Newstalk ZB

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