PLANS to privatise the Exeter-based Met Office will short-change the taxpayer by millions of pounds, the union representing more than 1,250 scientists and other staff at the UK forecaster said yesterday.

The union Prospect was responding to the announcement in yesterday’s pre-budget report that the Met Office is to be examined with a view to privatisation.

Negotiations Officer Philippa Childs said: “It is incredible that the government would even consider selling off its main centre of climate change expertise, not only after numerous previous investigations into the merits of privatisation have concluded it should be left as a public service, but at a time when the general economic climate will fail to provide an adequate return.

“As well as providing the National Meteorological Service for the UK, its combined weather and climate change research and expertise is relied on by MOD, the Department of Energy and Climate Change and Defra.

“Privatisation would denude the government of this intelligence. How can an agency that is a key contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change be privatised and still be expected to provide objective information?”

Even if, as suggested, service provision to the MOD is ring-fenced under any proposals, the union argues that the commercial functions of the service, which already provide a healthy contribution to the Exchequer, would face a conflict of interest if sold to industry.

Childs added that it was ironic that any potential purchaser would almost certainly have to raise the money from banks shored up by government funding, which would effectively be subsidising the sale of a public service.

“These privatisation proposals would not be in the best interests of the Met Office or the UK,” she said.

“The QinetiQ privatisation has already seen taxpayers short-changed following the sale of a public asset. It would be a travesty if history were to repeat itself. “