BBC and the Met Office – The Procurement Facts (Probably)

There was a great outcry yesterday when it was reported that the BBC would not be awarding the contract for weather forecasting services to the UK’s Met Office, who have provided the BBC forecasts since Noah built his Ark (well, for 93 years anyway). I believe they forecast light showers by the way ...

This decision was greeted with lots of complaints and comments along the lines of how dare the BBC award the contract to a (probably foreign) new supplier instead of our wonderful Met Office with all their lovely TV presenters. The opposition to the BBC decision is being led by ex journalist, MP and Minister Ben Bradshaw. He was a Minister in the Department of Health, and is notable for saying this about the National Programme for IT, which cost the taxpayer literally billions of pounds.

“Our use of computer technology in the NHS is becoming the envy of the world. It is saving lives, saving time and saving money. If you talk to health and IT experts anywhere in the world they point to Britain as example of computer technology being used successfully to improve health services to the public."

So we can trust his commercial judgement, can’t we? Of course, the people moaning are probably the same people who complain about the size of the licence fee and how the BBC should save money. You can't win sometimes when you work for certain organisations in the public eye.

We have resisted the temptation to contact people we know in the BBC, who I'm sure would not want to talk to us at this point, as the procurement process is clearly still running. But we have done a bit of research, and we believe, putting the evidence together, that the BBC must be at the final stages of a lengthy competitive dialogue process. We suspect this news indicates the Met Office were eliminated via an interim stage of the process, leaving probably two or possibly three suppliers to complete a final tender stage later this year.

Our research came up with this OJEU notice published by the BBC last September, with a closing date for expressions of interest in October 2014. There is a fair amount of detail about the service required contained in the notice, although it does not include a contract value. It does however indicate that the competitive dialogue process (one of the allowed EU procurement procedures) would be used to choose the winning supplier. It should be noted that the BBC is obliged to go to tender for this service, quite rightly. (No competition = corruption and inefficiency, as we know well from many other cases).

That competitive dialogue process means the BBC could engage in discussions and negotiations with a number of suppliers, and gradually reduce that number through what are in effect interim tenders. A normal competitive dialogue sees a pre-qualification stage to rule out the “idiot bidders”, then perhaps six or eight suppliers go through that and submit initial proposals.

Those are used to reduce the bidders to perhaps four or five. Further discussions would take place, then more proposals would be sought and evaluated to arrive at just two (or maybe three) potential winners. More discussions take place, and then an “Invitation to Submit a Final Tender” is issued, and the replies determine the winner. At all points, suppliers and their bids would be evaluated against a defined set of evaluation criteria.

We would expect the criteria in this case to have included a proven track record and ability to produce accurate forecasts; something around innovative new digital and mobile services; and of course price. So why might the Met Office have been eliminated at an intermediate stage?

It is hard to imagine that competitors have a significant quality advantage, although the experts would need to comment on that. It is quite likely that other possible bidders such as MetraWeather can show more innovative ideas and approaches. And it is also likely that others may have offered lower costs; maybe the Met Office is burdened with the costs of being a public sector organisation?

Anyway, if that is the case, then following a proper evaluation, of course the BBC has to make their choice on objective grounds. It is also likely that whoever wins will have a substantial presence in the UK, as MetraWeather do in their Reading facility. I’m sure at some point we will see more about the procurement process that was followed, and if the Met Office has a legitimate complaint, they can issue a legal challenge. The BBC has a pretty good procurement function in my experience – I would be amazed if this process has not been carried out in a very capable and competent fashion.

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