It's so tempting to be yet another blog tracking the ineptitute of the UK Met Office, but I'll point you in the direction of good people like Bishop Hill, Watts Up With That, and Jo Nova. They are doing a much better job than I could possibly do.
Instead, let's start by wondering why the UK Met Office behaves the way it does. The key to understanding this lies in the old adage - "Follow the money".
What is the Met Office?
It is a semi-autonomous part of the UK's Ministry of Defence, which still holds the purse strings firmly despite talks of Defence spending cuts. In its published accounts for 2009/10, turnover was £192.0 million, commercial revenue was £29.4 million, total expenditure was £185.3 million, and the operating profit was £6.6 million. Staff bonuses of £1.4 million were also paid, despite its infamous predictions of a "barbecue summer" and a "milder than average" winter. It operates as a "Trading Fund" - a commercial organisation with commercial objectives - owned by the MoD. It sells its services to corporate clients like the BBC and the MCA, and is not subject to the same kind of public accountability as most other government-funded organisations.
Asking the Met Office questions
Journalists who have tried to ask probing questions at the Met Office HQ in Exeter have had a hard time. As one put it to me:
"The Met Office is a 'Trading Fund' of the MoD, and inherits MoD characteristics of secrecy and waste of resource. Digging into their practices is 'heavy lifting'. Building a picture of what they do, how well, and how to hold them to account is challenging. They are, however, quite sensitive to publicity, responding aggressively to any hint of quibble or question. When I was researching another article, they rang up a senior UK board member of my publication to ensure my activities received 'oversight'. The second time I went there, I was told no-one was available, and was not permitted past the vehicle barrier"
This is a uniquely British device. In the US, and most of Europe, it is accepted that publicly-funded bodies (like the Met Office) are working for the public, and the results are freely available, right down to the raw data. The most well-known other Trading Fund organisations are the Ordnance Survey, Hydrographic Office, Companies House and the Land Registry. All of these are well-versed in the art of getting the public to pay again for access to the products that were produced and paid for with public funds in the first place!
Who runs it?
The current Chairman is Robert Napier, who also happens to be all of these things as well:
A non-executive director of The Climate Group
which funded and manages the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC)
, of which the £8billion BBC Pension Trust
, the Environment Agency Pension Fund and the Universities Superannuation Scheme are members. Their Annual report 2005/6
declares in the notes to the accounts: IIGCC: Funding to manage and facilitate the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, a network of pension funds and asset managers seeking to be active on climate change.
Chairman of the The Green Fiscal Commission which tells us "There is now general agreement among policy analysts that a significant programme of green fiscal reform (in which environmental taxes are increased, and other taxes are reduced in a fiscally neutral way) could play a considerable role in contributing to the cost-effective solution of environmental problems, and in particular climate change."
A non-executive director of Anglian Water Services
He was Chief Executive of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) UK from 1999 to 2007.
The rest of the board members are listed on their management page.
Sir Brian Hoskins CBE (Non-Executive Director) Sir Brian is a mathematician specialising in theoretical and numerical models, and a Royal Society Research Professor. In January 2008 he became the first Director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change which also receives funding for investigating MMGW and lobbying.
Paul Rew (Non-Executive Director), also a non-executive director of Northumbrian Water, and was a partner at Price Waterhouse Coopers for 23 years.
Mike Goodfellow (Non-Executive Director) , from the MOD at QinetiQ, which was also an MoD Trading Fund until being sold off in 2006. It is now involved in weapons systems research for US-based client companies.
Jim Currie (Non-Executive Director) - Could this be the same Jim Currie who was a member of the RBoS's Remuneration Committee? According to Investors Chronicle, they voted at least £20m of UK tax-payers' money (intended to bailout the failing bank) into Sir Fred Goodwin's pension fund. And again, is this the same Jim Currie who was a Non Executive Director of British Nuclear Fuels PLC between Nov 2002 and Sep 2005?
John Hirst (Met Office Chief Executive) received between £195,000 and £200,000 in pay and bonuses in 2008/9. He is also a Non-Executive Chairman at Asbis plc and a Non-Executive Director at hammerson Plc. Asbis plc is part of Asbis International, a IT hardware distribution business founded in Belarus, but now apparently based in Limassol, Cyprus. Hammerson is a European real estate company.
Terence Jagger (MoD representative) - a go-between from the MoD, Director of General Financial Management at MoD since 2007
Peter Shortt (Shareholder Executive Advisor) - one of the board at Capital For Enterprise, a venture capital fund manager. Previously at the Carbon Trust, which boost business returns', and also has its fingers in the making of Climate change policy and legislation.
Nick Jobling (Met Office Chief Financial Officer) - recently enjoyed a 30% pay rise to £100,000 a year, plus benefits.
Phillipa Childs (Prospect National Negotiator) She keenly defends the Met Office as a public organisation from talk of privatisation "How can an agency that is a key contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change be privatised and still be expected to provide impartial, objective information?" asked Childs, seamlessly inserting the glib untested assumption that the Met Office is impartial and objective, suggesting private companies cannot be trusted in the same way, and carefully not mentioning the Met Office's strong private enterprise connections. Prospect is a "union for professionals" - especially those employed by government departments, currently much concerned with talks of cutbacks, closures and strikes.
Julia Slingo (Met Office Chief Scientist) - is on the Council of the NERC which decides who gets environmental research grants. Other Council members include a former head of the IPCC and several other prominent climate change advocates.
Rob Varley (Met Office Operations & Services Director) . Rare among the board members in that he actually started as a weather forecaster.
The Met Office has a full-time legal department of nine people headed by Nick Benson to handle troublesome issues like legal responsibility for forecasts that went wrong, with road fatalities on ungritted roads after councils acted on "advice" from the Met Office. To defend itself against such charges the organisation relies on clauses that "appreciate the variable nature of weather forecasts".
Can you see what it is yet?
The big picture that emerges is of a seriously connected commercial business embedded in an international Climate Change industry that is worth billions. The more mundane weather forecasting as a Public Service takes second place. Recently, Sir Brian Hoskins contributed to the Stern Review and Tom Delay of The Carbon Trust said "The Review offers a huge business opportunity". The Prince of Wales’ 'Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change', formed by 14 of UK’s leading companies shares this expectation. Chairman of Shell UK, James Smith, expressed the hope of the group that business and Government would discuss how Britain could obtain “first mover advantage" in what he described as "a massive new global market".
Notice also how key players like Robert Napier have long been involved with pressure groups. This kind of relationship is surprisingly common, as what used to be single-issue pressure groups have become politicised at the highest levels, and key individuals move between the pressure groups and government agencies, as poachers turned gatekeepers. Some might consider it institutionalised conflict of interest, I couldn't possibly comment.
Positioning for the sell-off?
It is surely not coincidence that at least four of the board members have experience from publicly-owned utilities that have been sold-off by the government?
Robert Napier at Anglian Water,Mike Goodfellow at Qinetiq
Paul Rew at Northumbrian Water
Jim Currie at British Nuclear Fuels,
along with Peter Short's venture capital expertise, which a company-to-be-floated would certainly have good use for.
Who decides if it is accurate or not?
They have a self-assessed set of four measures of performance and KPTs.
- UK computer model forecast accuracy
- Global computer model forecast accuracy
- UK temperature
- UK rainfall
Significantly, the test for the model accuracy is to compare it with other computer models, not directly with the physical reality. Temperature measurement is another interesting one. That KPT of measuring temperature in just 11 large UK cities is cunning. It guarantees that only urban temperatures are being included, ignoring the Urban Heat Island effects. Inclusion of temperature recording in remoter rural sites like RAF Kinloss has been dropped from the reporting completely. This ensures that the overall temperature trend in the database still shows a warming trend. Gaining access to earlier, comparative data is also made problematic. This was held for decades within the Met Office Library, a publicly-funded facility with access notionally open to members of the public, and with data held in the public domain. For decades, library staff would find and produce what was available on any archived subject. Ask for historic data today, and you are shown the door. The once publicly-owned historic data has been appropriated by this commercial organisation, is now under lock and key, and inaccessible to the rest of us.
You don't need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows...
Posted by Keith MacDonald 10:01:53 PM