The UK Government has denied breaking the law in awarding Microsoft a £1.2 billion contract for the Met Office’s new supercomputer.

Last year the Met Office announced it would spend £1.2 billion (US$1.56bn) on building the world's most powerful supercomputer dedicated to weather and climate. Within the total £1.2bn contract, the supercomputer itself is expected to cost £854 million ($1.2bn).

In February, Atos filed a lawsuit against the Met Office and UK Government, claiming procurement laws were breached in awarding the contract to Microsoft. Law360 reports the secretary of state for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Meteorological Office have dismissed all allegations brought against them by Atos, arguing that the French company's proposals did not meet their requirements.

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Proposed Atos system had to be excluded from bids, says BEIS

Met Office
– Met Office

In the case, Atos IT Services UK Ltd. v. The Secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy and another, Atos claims it was unfairly marked on questions about processors that would be used in the system despite the fact that the tender documents did not set out required hardware specifications.

The French company argues it was wrongly excluded and should have been the winning applicant as it “offered better value for the public purse.” It is asking the High Court to award it damages and declare that it should have been awarded the project ahead of Microsoft.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Met Office deny Atos’ claims, saying its proposals had to be excluded as they didn’t meet the stated requirements, and that Microsoft’s bid offered the best value for money.

The proposed system had to be “architecturally equivalent” to an older model, which Atos’ proposals were not, according to the defense. The Met Office said it could not accept a bid that had scored zero on some of the questions, even if the company had scored higher than Microsoft in some areas.

The Government says that in giving the contract to Microsoft, it had “awarded it to the bidder submitting the most economically advantageous tender.”

The Government also argues that it is not the court’s role to re-evaluate bids, and that Atos has not properly identified or pleaded the loss that it is alleged to have suffered.

Atos claims that general principles of procurement law have been breached because the goalposts were moved. Atos added that its bid was excluded on the basis of undisclosed requirements, that tender process was subject to European Union rules covering public contracts that could include obligations to be transparent, and that the Met Office made “obvious errors in the evaluation.”

After the case was heard in court last month, A Met Office spokesperson told DCD that the Court had lifted the injunction, allowing it to proceed with its supercomputer procurement.

“We will continue to robustly defend our selection decision at any future hearings and remain confident that any issues can be worked through,” said the spokesperson.

Microsoft wouldn't confirm or deny at the time whether it had won the tender, only advising DCD to contact the Met Office.

DCD has reached out to BEIS for comment.