Science & Technology - Minutes of EvidenceHC 1538

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Science and Technology Committee

on Wednesday 9 November 2011

Members present:

Andrew Miller (Chair)

Stephen Metcalfe

Stephen Mosley

Graham Stringer

Roger Williams


Examination of Witness

Witness: Mr Edward Davey MP, Minister for Employment Relations, Consumer and Postal Affairs, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, gave evidence.

Q127 Chair: Good morning, Minister. Thank you very much for coming here today. We were expecting David Willetts-we meet him quite frequently and occasionally give him a hard time over various things-but we welcome you.

The Government’s statement about the division of Met Office responsibilities states: "The Minister responsible for ownership of the Met Office is now Edward Davey MP; with the Rt Hon. David Willetts MP responsible for customer functions…and the customer for the Public Weather Service, receiving advice from the Public Weather Service Customer Group". Can you explain what that actually means? Where do the divisions actually lie?

Mr Davey: Of course I can, and thank you for inviting me to give evidence. I have only one brain, so I am sure you will be softer on me.

The division of responsibilities between Ministers reflects the fact that the Government are both owner and customer of the services provided by the Met Office. It is an important divide, and it does not always receive the necessary recognition and emphasis. We need to consider the assets and the governance of the Met Office as the provider of these services, but there is also the customer aspect. As you know, the Government purchase information for the Public Weather Service but also for the MOD, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and so on. That divide is important. The Secretary of State and the Prime Minister both agree that that division of responsibilities should be reflected in our ministerial responsibilities. You have seen a lot of David, and we thought that you might want to see a little bit of me, especially as some of the issues that most concern your inquiry relate to the ownership function rather than the customer function. However, if you have any questions on the customer function I shall try my best to answer them.

Q128 Chair: On the question of ownership, have the Government now put to bed the idea of privatising the Met Office?

Mr Davey: We have no plans to privatise the Met Office. You will note that there has been a machinery change in Government; the Met Office has moved from the Ministry of Defence to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. It is now in a virtual holding company called the Public Data Corporation, sitting alongside Ordnance Survey, Her Majesty’s Land Registry and Companies House. We will make more announcements on this, probably at the end of this month, but we believe that many of the efficiencies and synergies that we would like to see for the Met Office and the other assets held by the Public Data Corporation can be achieved through this move. While the PDC will create a vehicle for private involvement and investment, potentially, there are no plans for privatisation.

Q129 Chair: Can we be clear about it? Is having "no plans for privatisation" driven by the global scientific case for keeping it as a public facility, or is it a Treasury-driven commercial case?

Mr Davey: If one stands back and thinks about privatisation, there are many reasons why organisations have been privatised. If one is cynical, one might say that it is sometimes done to fill a hole in the Government’s coffers. Although there is a rather big hole in the Government’s coffers at the moment, it would be deeply irresponsible for a decision to privatise the Met Office to be taken on those grounds. The Met Office is a world beater, and we should be extremely proud of it and those who work for it. I therefore think that those sorts of reasons for privatising it would never be considered. There are other reasons why things get privatised, such as the need to drive efficiencies. However, the Met Office is pretty efficient and we have come up with other models to drive efficiency, so I hope that I have given you some reassurance on that.

On the international point, not only is the Met Office a world leader, but the way that it operates requires it to engage with the international community, not only in terms of meteorological sciences but with the intelligence services and through the information that it provides to the Ministry of Defence and our armed services. A number of areas are reserved, so when people considered privatising the Met Office they found it quite difficult to get over those hurdles. It is not widely recognised that the Met Office only owns 4% of its data. It represents the UK at the World Meteorological Organisation and, through that, it is able to exchange huge amounts of data internationally. Its work is dependent upon that data. Therefore, one has to take account of global opinion and those global relationships in how we manage and think about the future of the Met Office.

Q130 Chair: Is it that we simply would not be at the table, especially with the Americans, if it was entirely a private business?

Mr Davey: There would be challenges.

Q131 Chair: In terms of the changes, the MOD clearly still has an important need for the highest quality Met Office service. What structures are in place to ensure that it continues to get the support that it needs?

Mr Davey: There are quarterly meetings between officials from the Ministry of Defence and the Met Office to ensure that the customer service agreement is up to date and being met. It is a close relationship. There is obviously a historical relationship, and, although the change to BIS has broken it to some extent, it is still very close. We certainly would not want to put that relationship at risk. It is very important to this country.

Q132 Chair: One of the prized documents on display in the Met Office library is the weather chart for D-day. In any conflict situation, it is clearly mission-critical to maintain that accurate data. Are you confident that the mechanisms that you describe will continue to meet the needs of the MOD in the future? Putting it another way, if the MOD shouted for more help, can we be assured that it would be forthcoming?

Mr Davey: The MOD is a customer. It pays money to the Met Office for the services that it receives and the Met Office would like to have the Ministry of Defence’s money.

Q133 Chair: In the case of conflict, I would see things slightly differently. I would expect a publicly or even a privately owned company to be responsive to the nation’s need in those circumstances. Can we be assured about that?

Mr Davey: You can be totally reassured about that.

Q134 Roger Williams: The Met Office depends upon customer service agreements with various Departments for its funding. They are intra-government agreements and are not legally enforceable. Sir John Beddington said in his review that these arrangements do not give the stability required and are unlikely to provide stability in the future. Why is it that the defence customer service agreement-and, indeed, the Met Office Hadley Centre climate programme agreement-have not been agreed beyond the financial year 2011-12?

Mr Davey: I can understand why people have concerns about this and why the Met Office would like to see changes. If you go back in history, there have never been very long funding arrangements, so it is nothing new, but the current financial circumstances have made it more challenging. We need to consider whether these customer service agreements and the funding behind them can be put on a longer time scale, but that would be work in progress by the various parties. I cannot say that it will happen, or that it will happen by a certain date, but the point you make, Mr Williams, is very well made.

Q135 Roger Williams: The Hadley Centre climate change programme is now jointly managed by DECC and Defra, but that does not seem to have given it the required stability. Would it not be better if it was managed by only one Department?

Mr Davey: As I understand it, DECC and Defra are coming together to sign a memorandum of understanding-I shall be corrected if I am wrong-in order to give the Hadley Centre the reassurances that it seeks. That is important because it is doing some critical long-term research.

Q136 Roger Williams: You say that Departments are looking at how to provide more stability for funding. Would that include making these customer service agreements legally enforceable?

Mr Davey: I am not sure that the legally enforceable bit is the critical factor. While this purchaser-provider or owner-customer split is very important and very real, there are real negotiations about the contract. I sometimes think that people see it as a pretence, but it is very real. Because they are Government to Government and on a Crown to Crown basis, I am now absolutely clear that they are not legally enforceable.

Q137 Roger Williams: Under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, the Met Office is the preferred supplier for advice and services to the Government. Does that give any more stability and certainty about future funding streams?

Mr Davey: One can be clear that these sorts of services are going to be needed into the future; they are not services that we can jettison or do without. In that rather profound way, there can be certainty. As for the exact levels of funding and so on, it is always difficult to say, but we have gone through the spending review and the big totals are there for all to see. I think that should give some comfort.

Q138 Stephen Metcalfe: As well as having the Government as a customer, the Met Office earns about 15% or 16% of its income from additional commercial activity. Do you think that that proportion-the physical amount-should be increased, and, if so, what are the pros and cons of doing so?

Mr Davey: We have no target figure to work toward, but there would be attractions to having one if the Met Office were to develop its commercial arm. It would need to do so carefully, but now that it is within BIS, under the Shareholder Executive for which I am Minister, and under PDC, there will be extra support for those activities, and extra advice and guidance, given the skills in the Shareholder Executive.

One of the reasons for developing PDC was to attract private investment. It may well be that joint ventures that might be needed to develop these commercial activities could be a lot easier to arrange than in the past. There was a joint venture five or six years ago, but it was not as successful as people had hoped. Perhaps under the new model we will see more examination of those options to provide the sorts of things you are talking about. But we should be clear that the services that the Met Office provides to the public sector, the Ministry of Defence and so on are absolutely critical. While it would be possible to expand its commercial activities, we must not at any stage put those other services at risk.

Q139 Stephen Metcalfe: We would probably all agree with that, but do you see any advantages for the Met Office itself, and the science that it does, by increasing joint ventures and its amount of commercial activity?

Mr Davey: Potentially, it can bring more money and investment into the Met Office. That has the attraction of supporting the science, but all the best meteorological scientists are probably already in the Met Office. These are early days in the job for me, but I am not aware of a huge cadre of meteorological scientists sitting outside that it could then partner. The attractions of it are the ability to think through new ideas and provide new capital that might make things more accessible and more attractive. You are absolutely right that it is an area that should be explored-it has been explored in the past-and what we are doing will facilitate that.

Q140 Graham Stringer: The Met Office clearly believes that to stay at the forefront of global warming science and meteorological science it needs more supercomputing capacity. Do you think that it should have it?

Mr Davey: A very good case has been made for that. In BIS, we are building a business case for investing in supercomputers. That work has started, and it is happening with a degree of urgency. We want to press ahead with building a business case for the high levels of investment that will be needed. One has to remember that technology is changing so fast that we have to ensure that these investments are done in the right way. That is why we have to ensure that the business case stacks up. But the scientific case to which you allude in your question is clear and is accepted.

Q141 Graham Stringer: You say that a good case has been made. Will you tell us what it is?

Mr Davey: I am not a scientist, but I understand that, when you are trying to crunch the huge volume of data involved in forecasting, and especially in short-run forecasting, which has to be done incredibly quickly, you need very powerful computers. Equally, when you are doing long-term seasonal or decadal forecasting, you need computers that can handle even more data. I am not sure that I have explained that very well, but that is my understanding of why, as we try to be more ambitious in accuracy and in our longer-term forecasting, we need ever faster and cleverer computers. That may sound a bit basic.

Q142 Graham Stringer: It does, but you are not a scientist. Are you aware of Moore’s law-twice a year?

Mr Davey: Twice a year, yes.

Q143 Graham Stringer: My back-of-the-envelope calculations say that, if you wait nine years, you will get 64 times the computing capacity at one sixty-fourth the cost. That is a big differential from buying now. Whatever the business case, would it not be better to wait nine years, or whatever? The longer you wait, the cheaper and better the computing capacity. Why now?

Mr Davey: If you use that approach, you would never buy anything, would you? There are other reasons for purchasing, given the output that is required. We want an output from the science, but we also need to consider affordability and so on, which is why we need to make a proper business case. I do not want to give you the impression that making a business case is trying to put hurdles in the way of investment. It is a proper thing that all Governments do.

Q144 Graham Stringer: I do not agree. It does not mean that you would not necessarily buy it. It means that you would not necessarily buy it now, as it would be a lot cheaper and better in a few years’ time. What is the case for doing it now?

Mr Davey: With respect, Mr Stringer, that is why we are doing the business case. We have started work on it. You do not do a business case knowing what the answer will be before you start.

Q145 Graham Stringer: You said that you did not know about science, but the business case seems to be that the scientists want it. That is a bit of a circular argument. Have you read what was said at our last evidence session?

Mr Davey: No, I have not read that evidence.

Q146 Graham Stringer: You didn’t. In the last evidence session, we asked the Met Office whether, when it was looking at its climate models, it had got the predictions right for the flattening out of the increase in temperature that has taken place over the last 10 years. It said that it had not-not quite in those terms, I admit-but that it understood why it hadn’t. Further, it said that it was very good at "hand casting", which means correcting the models over that period. Does it not worry you that that is a different kind of science? It looks at computer models and then corrects them historically, but it does not get it right when they are predicting the future.

Mr Davey: I speak as an economist, and I know that when economists come together they are always trying to predict the economy, spending huge sums on their work. Often, but not invariably, they get it wrong. That is the problem with forecasting, whether of the weather or the economy. The question is whether it is a good idea to be able to forecast and predict the economy or the weather better than we do now. Yes, I do think it is a good idea, and, while you have to build a business case, it is sensible to invest in the scientists and the facilities needed to improve forecasting. I am trying to understand what you are driving at, Mr Stringer. Are you against better forecasting?

Q147 Graham Stringer: I am talking about the Met Office’s global warming predictions. I am saying that there is no evidence so far in terms of the predictions of climate change that it is getting it right. When it has gone back, it has been able to correct the models so that, had it changed the starting position, it would have been right. That is the real point. I am doubting whether it is science as we know it, really. That is what I am asking, and I am trying to separate that aspect from weather forecasting. Forecasts over the four or five-day period have clearly become more accurate over the last 15 or 20 years. That is verifiable, because you can go back to see what had been predicted and it has improved its performance. There is a difference, and I am asking whether you are worried about it.

Mr Davey: I would imagine that climate change science is at an earlier stage than weather forecasting because, obviously, they are different things, as I am sure you appreciate. The potential cost and damage to the planet of climate change, if people are correct, is such that investing in scientists and computers to assist in improving this relatively new science seems to me a sensible thing to do. I am sure that there will be challenges along the way. I am not a climate change scientist or an expert on the matter, but I know that the Committee has already looked at the question. However, from where I am standing, having just read things like the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, I know that the world’s best scientists have come together, no doubt sharing the predictions of many different computer systems, and they think that we should be seriously worried about it. Given a United Nations panel of scientists of that calibre, I as a mere economist would not want to challenge it. I think that we should take their predictions seriously and try to develop the science.

Q148 Graham Stringer: It would have been helpful if you had read the evidence that we heard last week, because I asked a question along those lines and I would be interested in your answer. Given that 90% of scientists accept that global warming is taking place-it is not a 100% consensus, but 90% is acceptable-why do we need any more investment in that science anyway? We accept that there is a difference within scientific opinion about whether the world will have warmed by 2° or 4° over the next 40 or 50 years. If that is the scientific consensus, why do we need to invest millions and millions of pounds now, when we know that it is happening?

Mr Davey: First, we should remember that the investment in the computers we are talking about would be used for weather forecasting as well as for climate change science. They would be dual purpose, if you like. You could, therefore, justify the expenditure-when we examine the business case we will obviously be considering such matters-through the improvements that we will get in forecasting the weather. The fact that you can use that computer power also for the climate change science seems to be another win. If I was to forget-

Q149 Graham Stringer: Do you know that that is the case?

Mr Davey: Do I know that what is the case?

Graham Stringer: Do you know whether the improvements in weather forecasting require precisely the same increase in supercomputing capacity that you need for predicting climate change?

Mr Davey: I am told that the model that will be used will be used for both purposes.

Q150 Stephen Mosley: May I return to something that you said earlier about the Public Data Corporation? You seemed to be talking in the present tense about the Met Office being part of PDC. I thought that consultation on the matter finished only a couple of weeks ago, and that, although the intention is to move the Met Office to PDC, the decision has not yet been firmly or formally made. Has that decision been made yet?

Mr Davey: You are right to pick up on that. We announced our decision on PDC in January, and we are consulting on a range of matters such as licences, data release and so on. That consultation has only just finished, and we have not yet responded to it. However, it has always been our clear intention to set up PDC. It is like a virtual holding company, so saying that it has started and is now in being is a bit tricky. We are not trying to put these organisations together.

There are three organisations, and it would be useful to correct the record and be clear about it. In the machinery of Government change, you have the Ordnance Survey, Her Majesty’s Land Registry and the Met Office coming in to BIS. I am also the Minister responsible for Companies House, another big data user. As we envisage it, those three assets will come together in an organisation called PDC. The actual start button will not be determined by the consultation; the consultation is about other matters as well.

Q151 Stephen Mosley: Moving on to Met Office data, I know that the Committee on Climate Change has called on the Government to ensure that data already collected by the Met Office is made more readily available. It highlights and contrasts what happens in the UK with what happens in the United States, where, apparently, weather data is much more freely available. Are there lessons to be learned from the US? Could improved access to data help us to create a more vibrant private sector?

Mr Davey: Yes and yes. As I said, the Met Office is the world leader in this area in weather forecasting. It has already released huge amounts of data, but our ambition is that it should release more quality data than any of its counterparts. We certainly have huge ambitions for it. For example, we are already consulting with the relevant people in the community on releasing historical data, which is available more freely in the US. We will certainly have announcements to make on this in the coming weeks and months, as we finalise the PDC decision.

Q152 Stephen Mosley: One concern that we have heard from the Met Office is that it has massive amounts of raw data. It wants to make that data more available, but it will be difficult to do so unless it is provided in a useful format. Do you think this will have any impact? How useful will large amounts of data be when compared to the effort that would be necessary to put it in a useful format?

Mr Davey: Those are all the right questions that we are asking as part of the process of bringing PDC together and of considering the various assets in that way. The Government are committed to open data, and I am committed to ensuring that the models that we put forward will enable and facilitate that. One reason why we are building PDC as this virtual holding company is to learn lessons from those Government assets in order to facilitate the release of that data. We will be looking at all those issues. You are right to say that some of the raw data will be quite difficult for people to interpret immediately, but we want it to be presented in a useful format. As I said earlier, we have the ambition to release more data than other equivalent services. The question is how it is to be done and not whether we will do it.

Q153 Chair: I struggled with one sentence in the Government memorandum. It states: "The proposal for stronger partnerships and collaboration is fully endorsed and will be a crucial element of the success of the Science Strategy, although we suggest that the proposed science partnerships should also include representation from government to provide additional context to proposed research programmes." What on earth does that mean?

Mr Davey: Well-it means that we believe in partnerships, Mr Miller, and we think that they can be developed to the benefit of all involved. The suggestion that the Government should be represented on the science partnerships was, frankly, to ensure the links between the Government and policy-relevant research and that any potential research overlap is minimised. That seems sensible.

Q154 Chair: We have heard the Government say that they believe in partnerships, marriage and so on, but does this not drive a coach and horses through the Haldane principle?

Mr Davey: Through what?

Chair: The Haldane principle.

Mr Davey: I do not believe it does.

Q155 Chair: What is the role of Governments in a science body? If they are seeking to steer things, it would run totally counter to what the Science Minister has told this Committee before. What is the role of Governments in such an organisation?

Mr Davey: As I said, it is to ensure that research overlap is minimised. I do not believe that it is to lead the research. Following Haldane, no Government would wish to be that interventionist. We strongly believe that research should be directed by the academic community, and not through Government policy.

Q156 Chair: The word is "government". It does not say the research councils or the Technology Strategy Board or Universities UK. It says "government".

Mr Davey: In this context-that is why we included it in the memorandum-the Met Office is not a pure science body. It does not get funding from the research councils as do other parts of the academic community. It is a delivery body that uses science. Ensuring that it is linked to the science community seems a sensible thing to do. We do not seek to direct the science community, but we want to ensure that those links are strong. My understanding is that the relationship between the science community, academia and the Met Office is stronger and better than in the past.

Q157 Chair: That I agree with, but the reason for my questioning is not simply because it is my view. In response to that statement, the Met Office’s chief scientist told us, "We need to be careful that, particularly with our academic partners, we don’t conflict with the Haldane principle, which we need to recognise." The Met Office’s chief executive said, "Having also read that memorandum, I don’t understand the thoughts behind it. We need to understand precisely what people want to do."

Mr Davey: I hope that what I have said will give them some reassurance. It was not our purpose in the memorandum to go across the Haldane principle. We want to keep to those principles. Let me make it absolutely clear for the record, thanks to your question, Mr Miller, that research should be directed by the academic community and not Government policy.

Q158 Chair: If there is any further clarity on that subsequently-

Mr Davey: I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Universities and Science would be happy to give clarity on that.

Q159 Chair: I am sure he will. To what extent do the Government exert pressure on other nations to maintain funding for shared resources such as weather satellites?

Mr Davey: You will appreciate that pressure can be applied in different ways. I am not sure whether it is a question of Ministers phoning their counterparts and having strong discussions; it is more a question of ensuring that strong collaboration and co-operation across the globe is maintained. We certainly recognise that various Governments are under many cost pressures. The best way to apply pressure is to work together through those cost pressures and to understand their longer-term implications. As I said earlier, the Met Office owns only 4% of its data; it is very reliant on data from other international bodies and other countries. Therefore, we need to be clear about what will happen to the collection and provision of such data in future. Were gaps to occur in the future, we would need to think through how to meet them. I am not sure if it was that sort of pressure that you were looking for, Mr Miller, but I believe that we should ensure that the relationship is a collaborative one and not a troubled one.

Q160 Chair: I understand that, but, clearly, some shared investments will have significant economic paybacks in protecting various stakeholders in society. I put it specifically in the context of the polar orbiting satellites that have been delayed because of changes in the US budgetary process. What discussions have the Government had with their US counterparts to make a case for the Met Office on this?

Mr Davey: I believe that there are discussions on how those cuts should be factored into future planning. We know that the delays in agreeing funding for the next generation of US polar orbiters have increased the risk of a US data gap. It is something that we have to take seriously. We know that the US is attempting to mitigate the problem and to see whether the lifetime of the existing programme can be extended. We are aware of their efforts to mitigate that. John Hirst has been speaking to the Met Office’s national equivalent in the US, and the matter is being raised at Government level. We take the matter seriously, and it is important that we find a way forward.

Q161 Chair: You started your response by saying "I believe" that there has been a dialogue.

Mr Davey: I am more certain now.

Q162 Chair: You are now more certain by the magic of inspiration that has sprung in front of you. That was at John Hirst’s level, but has there been any ministerial dialogue?

Mr Davey: I believe that there has, and I will be even more certain in a moment. I am wrong: there has not.

Q163 Chair: Would it not be useful if the relevant Ministers started having this discussion? It is a very sensitive area and, as I said, it has a significant economic impact upon scientists.

Mr Davey: I will ensure that we talk to John Hirst and find out what extra support he feels is needed from Ministers.

Q164 Stephen Mosley: A couple of years ago, we were promised a barbeque summer, yet it seemed to do little more than rain.

Chair: You can blame the Labour Government for that.

Stephen Mosley: The perception is that the Met Office does not provide reliable seasonal forecasts. Is that a fair perception?

Mr Davey: My understanding is that it is the best forecast in the world if you look at it over time, but it is not always going to get it right. However, if you look at satisfaction ratings and other criteria to check its performance, it does well.

Q165 Stephen Mosley: To be fair, the National Oceanography Centre said that many of the problems were due to sensationalist media reporting and to shortcomings in how probability and risk are understood by non-experts. To what extent are probability and risk factored into the way that the Government use the seasonal forecasts?

Mr Davey: For the Government usage of them, the probability and risk issues will be central to how they are considered. For example, if the Ministry of Defence was using Met Office forecasts for its planning, it would obviously be asking it what certainty there was. It would be very clear about that. I imagine that military planners would base their assessments on that advice. For those who really understand probability and are reliant on the data, it will be fundamental to their thinking because they will have to plan more than one scenario if weather dependency is important.

Q166 Stephen Mosley: When it comes to communicating this information to the general public, people tend to read the newspapers and watch the 30-second weather forecasts on the BBC. That level of risk and probability is not put across all that well in this country, unlike in the US. When the hurricane was due to hit New York, I believe that 12 scenarios were broadcast, showing different routes for the hurricane and the different probabilities of each route occurring. Could communication of this detailed information be improved in the UK?

Mr Davey: I know that the Met Office is working with a number of people to consider how best to get over such risks and probabilities. We know that other countries use percentages to get the information across. Broadcasters, who are information providers, want to know how the information that they are communicating is perceived and taken on board. They want to ensure that they get it right. It is important that the Met Office does proper research to analyse it. The Met Office is beginning to use a lot of probability data on its website, including fan charts and so forth. This is the direction of travel, but if we are to move away from, "It is likely to rain", or, "It is very likely to be foggy" or whatever phrase we hear or see now on our TV screens, it needs to ensure that we end up with something with which the British public feel happy.

You are right to raise the question. The Met Office is considering the matter, but I do not pretend to know what the final answer will be. As Minister, I want to ensure that it is done properly so that the general public get the right messages and are able to use them in their daily lives.

Q167 Stephen Metcalfe: Would you clarify what the Government use seasonal forecasts for? It is all very amusing to talk about barbeque summers, but why do the Government need that sort of information, and what do they do with it?

Mr Davey: I can imagine a number of things that they would do with it. The Government do a lot of contingency planning in a whole range of areas. As you can imagine, the contingency planning community will want this data for everything from emergency planning to gritting the roads in the winter. There is a whole range of different things for which you might want seasonal planning as that would change your purchasing decisions and planning.

Q168 Stephen Metcalfe: How do the Government factor in these probabilities? I understand that it is all about probabilities. Indeed, I believe that the barbeque summer was a 60% probability, which of course meant that there was a 40% probability that it would not happen. Who deals with that data, and how are decisions taken on what we should do to prepare for the coming winter, if it is all done on probability?

Mr Davey: Let’s remember that it is on probability because that is inherently the case. We do not have perfect foresight. Therefore, it is not a fault of Government that people have to make these judgments.

You have to look at planning as a series of decisions. There are longer-term decisions. Seasonal planning might be a three-month scenario, and you might be thinking about what you need to do to prepare in case a particular scenario happens, but you will be reviewing those decisions the nearer you get to the point. Ultimately, of course, you will be looking at the next day forecast. If you are one of those clever people in the contingency planning community, you will be thinking about these probabilities over time; your actions will be changing over time, and I should have thought that you will try to avoid spending money until the last possible moment. However, if it is going to be difficult to get resources such as salt at the last minute, you will want to ensure that stocks are ready if the probability of a really bad, severe winter is very high. I am not coming to you as an expert in this, and I am sure that my colleagues in the Department for Transport are much more on top of that usage of seasonal forecasting, but I give that as an example of something that touches on people’s lives, and we need to get it right.

Chair: Minister, we are extremely grateful for your time. It has been a fascinating session. Two brains or not, several brains sitting behind you proved incredibly useful. Thank you very much for your attendance.

Prepared 17th February 2012