Government pays out £24m after challenge to Met Office computer contract

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
9 January 2023

The UK government has paid £24m in an out-of-court settlement to a supplier that lost out on a contract to provide a new Meteorological Office computer system.

The payment to tech company Atos, from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Met Office, an executive agency of BEIS, came after Atos launched a legal challenge to the tender process.

The £854m contract, to provide a new supercomputer dedicated to weather prediction and climate change, was awarded to Microsoft but Atos argued the tender process breached the Public Contract Regulations 2015 concerning consistency and transparency.

The case centred on requirements in the tender to provide test supercomputer systems and a development supercomputer system that were “architecturally equivalent” to the main supercomputer system.

Two bidders – Microsoft and Atos – submitted final tenders but the Met Office found Atos’s bid to be “non-compliant with the stated requirements”.

In a High Court judgement in January 2022, ahead of an expected trial in May 2022, Mr Justice Eyre said Atos claimed there were “manifest errors in the evaluation of its tender and in the finding that the proposed development supercomputer was not architecturally equivalent to the main supercomputer”.

“Alternatively it is said the [Met Office’s] interpretation of the requirement of architectural equivalence was contrary to the obligation under the [PCR] regulations for the procurement to be conducted with transparency and consistancy.

“The [Met Office], it is alleged, either made the decision on the basis of undisclosed requirements or interpreted the requirement of architectural equivalence in way which would not be transparent to the reasonably well-informed and normally diligent tenderer.”

In BEIS’s annual report and accounts 2021-22 it said BEIS and the Met Office “entered into a settlement agreement with Atos IT Services UK Ltd for joint payment of £24m to Atos, without admission of liability”.

In a joint statement BEIS and the Met Office said: “The proceedings regarding supercomputer procurement have been resolved with no admission of liability from any party.

“This settlement is in the best interest of taxpayers and allows the Met Office to concentrate efforts on delivering the infrastructure necessary to keep the UK at the forefront of global weather and climate science leadership.

“An independent review has assured that all procurement processes were followed and there were no failures associated with governance or lack of controls. We will take forward such lessons identified as are applicable to the Met Office.”

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