Nick Baldwin

Independent chair

21 May 2012

Nick Baldwin, Chair of the Public Weather Service Customer Group

Nick Baldwin, Chair of the Public Weather Service Customer Group, describes how the Customer Group makes sure that the public and emergency responders get the weather services and information they need.

Five years ago I saw a job advert. It read: "The weather affects us all. Accurate forecasts are important to everyone from the emergency services preparing for incidents to children who want the rain to hold off so they can play in the park. To ensure the right information is shared for protecting and informing the public, apply here....". I was intrigued and interested, so applied and was selected.

I've been Chair of the Public Weather Service Customer Group since September 2007. During that time, I have seen the Met Office make huge progress with the service it delivers to the public and emergency responders.

Acting on behalf of the public

The Customer Group acts on behalf of the public as the customer for the free weather services which the Met Office provides. It is responsible for ensuring that the services are aligned to the operational needs of the Public Sector users of Public Weather Service outputs. The group also sets the requirements for the Public Weather Service, specifying and monitoring its outputs, supporting research and development to meet future requirements.

Members of the Public Weather Service Customer Group are drawn from the principal public sector users of the service. The group includes senior managers from across government departments and their agencies, the devolved administrations and local government.

There is also a member of the general public and a representative from the Public Weather Service nominated broadcaster, currently the BBC, who advises on how to extend and maximise the understanding and reach of the services. The Group and I are also supported by a small dedicated Secretariat. We meet quarterly to conduct our business.

One of the most important roles the Customer Group fulfils is ensuring the public and emergency responders get the weather services and information they need. We do this through a programme of consultation which enables us to capture the requirements for the Public Weather Service. This also means that the decisions the Customer Group makes about changes to the Public Weather Service are based on robust evidence that will withstand external scrutiny and provide real benefits to end-users.

Driving improvement

One important example of how the Customer Group consultation activity drives improvement in the Public Weather Service is the review of the National Severe Weather Warning Service (NSWWS). In 2009/10 the Group initiated an exercise to consider whether the NSWWS was meeting the needs of the public and the responder communities in the UK.

This was the first major review of the service since its introduction following the 'Great Storm' of 1987. Stakeholders told us they wanted fewer warnings and simpler, clearer and more joined-up communication. Most significantly, they wanted information about the likely impacts of the severe weather rather than just a warning of the weather.

As a result of the review, the Met Office launched its new revised service in March 2011. Just over a year on and it's been thoroughly tested by some challenging weather. However, it has proved to be a significant step-forward and a real success, with positive feedback from emergency responders and the public alike.

I believe one of the very best things that the Public Weather Service Customer Group is responsible for is helping to propel the Met Office into the mobile world of the internet and smart phone. The Met Office iPhone app is incredibly popular, and I'm particularly proud of the praise we have received from the general public for the website redesign.

Looking forward, the Public Weather Service Customer Group faces new and exciting challenges as we begin to work with the newly established Data Strategy Board to advise and direct on the flagship government policy on open data. I look forward to helping shape this agenda over the coming months, as well as continuing to steer the strategic direction of the Public Weather Service to ensure it continues to provide the service the public and emergency responders need.

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