Published Thursday — If you’re a parent you know a guilty face when you see it, so NIWA’s refusal to comment to the Otago Daily Times about why they compete head to head with MetService appears to suggest they know this set up is not right.
Less than a week since the New Zealand Government released an independent review that says New Zealand has the most expensive and restrictive access to tax owned weather data in the world (through both NIWA and MetService) Minister of Research, Science and Innovation Dr Megan Woods has announced she is now also looking into the double up of state owned forecasters operating in the same space.
WeatherWatch.co.nz welcomes this news along with more sunlight and transparency on just what is going on at NIWA, now that they continually refuse to comment.
NIWA is now aggressively competing against MetService and small businesses yet they are 100% owned by the public and are supposed to be a Crown Research Institute.
Below is the story by the Otago Daily Times out today, we thank them for letting us share it.
BY PAUL GORMAN, OTAGO DAILY TIMES
The Government will look into an apparent double-up in which New Zealanders are paying millions of dollars a year to support two national weather forecasting agencies.
State-owned enterprise MetService is New Zealand’s official provider of weather warnings and a range of government-funded forecasts.
But in recent years Crown research institute climate agency Niwa has boosted its forecasting unit, building up a vigorous social media profile and employing extra meteorologists who predict and comment on approaching extreme or notable weather.
Niwa is spending $18 million upgrading its ultra-fast supercomputers. These not only generate climate-change projections and scenarios of the effects of natural events, but, according to Niwa’s website, also produce ”the six days of NiwaWeather forecasts that help you find the best time to do all the important things you want to do”.
Others in the weather sector, including private forecasting companies WeatherWatch and Blue Skies Weather and Climate, are worried taxpayers are now having to fund competing government agencies and say the situation is unparalleled elsewhere in the world.
There are concerns the public may be confused about whom to listen to when severe weather is on the way and also about the struggle with Niwa and MetService to get access to what WeatherWatch and Blue Skies say should be publicly available, ”open”, data.
Complaints about the forecasting double-up to former state-owned enterprises minister Steven Joyce were to no avail.
Minister of Research, Science and Innovation Dr Megan Woods said she was going to look into the matter and ”ensure there isn’t undue duplication of roles and effort”.
Niwa declined to comment on the minister’s move and chose not to answer questions.
MetService spokeswoman Jacqui Bridges said it would be ”happy to assist and collaborate” with Dr Woods.
The potential for public confusion about severe weather warnings was a concern, Ms Bridges said.
”MetService places great importance on communication with news media and the public to ensure awareness of its role as New Zealand’s authorised weather warnings service, and to maintain high public trust and confidence in its forecasts and warnings.”
MetService had not complained to ministers or the Government about Niwa’s forecasting service, she said.
A much-awaited Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment report on public access to Niwa and MetService weather data, released last Friday, found their restrictions were some of the toughest in the world and might be stopping third-party competition and hamstringing innovation.
Consultant PwC said Dr Woods would be given options ”to increase access to observational weather data”.
”Depending on the minister’s decision, there may be future investigation into impacts on MetService and Niwa if more weather data access were to be further opened up.”
Dr Woods said she had already asked officials to consider how that data could be freed up.
”I have some concerns around the way the current commercial model operates.”
WeatherWatch owner Philip Duncan said it was ”good news” Dr Woods was willing to look into the government forecaster duplication.
However, he was not ”jumping for joy” after several previous efforts to get this far had been hampered by ”no transparency, misleading comments from ministers and no accountability”.
Blue Skies Weather founder and forecaster Tony Trewinnard said he was concerned about potential conflicts of interest ”when the gatekeepers of data are also looking to profit from it”.
”It’s hard enough competing with one government-funded competitor, let alone two,” he said.
Mr Trewinnard said giving government-subsidised agencies some independent free-market competition, able to operate with the same data, was a good thing.
on 19/01/2018 12:03am
The team at NIWA recognised years ago that there was going to be oodles of money and great publicity/virtue signalling in being part of climate change ‘research’, hence their investment in their climate/weather department.
Given their politically correct views on the subject, (and history of adjusting records to suit that narrative) and that we have the leader of the Greens as our official Climate Change minister, my money is on NIWA if there’s any battle for funding or government preference.
on 19/01/2018 12:24am
Very interesting Colin! Positioning themselves to become the official forecaster and no longer MetService, may well be their plan!
– Phil D
on 18/01/2018 2:26am
There should be an independent assessment of what and why is exactly going on here.
NIWA depends on public taxes to do their business and from what I understand they have a multi million dollar computer system in place in Wellington too – publicly funded.
They spout on about Climate Change because their existence depends on getting this story traction.
How much in funding exactly do they receive each year as opposed to Met Service?
Do we have a double up here?
Do we have a waste of tax payers money here?
Independent investigation needed, not a government investigation – whitewash ahead!!
on 18/01/2018 3:26am
Hi there, NIWA receives around 120 million a year in funding (plus many other huge funding projects), MetService around 25 million (again they get many other Government/tax dollars too). They both compete in the same space – it’s obvious to anyone who visits the Niwa Weather website, their social media accounts, or anyone who reads the news these days during severe weather. The new Government is more interested than the previous Government on this topic – but yes agree, independent reviews work best! That’s why it’s so important to get transparency in here. NIWA is a Crown Research Institute not a Crown Revenue Institute. The fact they refuse to engage with ANY media outlet and even some Ministers shows they know they are doing something wrong in our view.
Thanks for the comment
on 18/01/2018 4:10am
Hey mate just a point here that CRI’s are obligated to return a profit and that governance structure for all CRIs is the same — Shareholding Ministers appoint CRI boards of directors, who in turn appoint the chief executive in accordance with the Companies Act and the constitutions of each CRI, effectively running them like businesses. This means that meaningful discoveries can get tied up with the IP lawyers for a substantial length of time.
If you want complete transparency and therefore free information sharing, you’d need to petition the government to change them to government departments.
on 18/01/2018 4:16am
Thanks a lot for that – and we are doing that! Also there are now plenty of official Government documents saying that agencies do not own IP on all tax funded data, they simply should be collecting it on behalf of the public. The NZ Government is in fact breaking down the barriers on this legal fight on behalf of the public which is really great – and started under the National Government and appears to be accelerating under the Labour Government. Really appreciate your advice and we are certainly pressuring the Government to ensure the commercial sides to NIWA and MetService actually CONTINUE – but operate separately to the public services they are tax funded to provide. We think both are possible and we – and many others in Government also – are fighting for that to happen and create a fair market, one that means an 18yo leaving high school can access the same tax funded data that a big rich corporation can use.