Joint Committee on Draft Communications Bill Report


96. General provision relating to the transition from the existing regulators to OFCOM has already been made under the Office of Communications Act 2002. The draft Bill contains further provisions relating to the transfer of functions and property from those regulators to OFCOM.[200] The final Bill will contain additional Clauses on this subject, relating in particular to the position of staff.[201] We are aware that the current regulators have concerns both about the welfare of their own staff and about the integrity of their own regulatory functions during the transitional period, but the Government has decided that such Clauses should await the opportunity to consult OFCOM when it is established, and in their absence we have decided not to comment further on staffing matters.[202]

97. We are, however, concerned that the transition from the existing regulators to OFCOM should be as smooth and transparent as possible in the interests of both OFCOM and those subject to regulation. Section 4 of the Office of Communications Act 2002 places a duty on the existing regulators to carry out their functions in a way that enables OFCOM to perform its own functions effectively when the baton is handed over. Clause 21 reinforces this requirement and specifically obliges existing regulators to comply with directions by the Secretaries of State on this matter. We consider these provisions ought to be strengthened in a way that provides a more direct role for OFCOM. We recommend that OFCOM, under the general powers vested in it by section 2 of the Office of Communications Act 2002, publish for consultation initial statements of intention regarding the fulfilment of the regulatory functions it will assume under the Communications Bill. We further recommend that Clause 21 be amended to require the pre-commencement regulators to have regard to such statements in fulfilling their functions before they pass to OFCOM.

98. We received some evidence relating to the internal structures of OFCOM and in particular about the place of radio in those structures.[203] Many of these comments relate to proposals in the Towers Perrin Report commissioned by the existing regulators as a basis for guidance to the incoming Board of OFCOM. In the time available, we have not examined these proposals in detail, but we question whether the suggestions of the Towers Perrin Report provide an entirely satisfactory design for the new Board of OFCOM to use in determining OFCOM's internal structure. In particular, we are profoundly sceptical about the case for a separate radio group in the internal structure of OFCOM.

99. It is the stated policy of the Government that OFCOM "needs to be designed from new" and "needs to amount to much more than bringing together five bodies with a new name - it will need to embody a new organisational vision, have the right internal structure, the right work processes and above all the right people".[204] Patricia Hewitt told us that she and Tessa Jowell "have been absolutely clear from the outset of this that we are not creating a body that is simply front door marked 'OFCOM' with five silos behind it, each effectively with the name, culture, traditions and personnel of the existing regulator. If that were to be what happened, it would indeed be a failure of the reform process."[205] We wholeheartedly agree. If OFCOM becomes little more than an agglomeration of the existing regulators - badge engineering for five regulators under one roof - then the process of establishing OFCOM will have failed.

100. We have explored ways in which OFCOM can establish its own distinct regulatory culture. Some recommendations we have already made - relating to OFCOM's principal duty, the promptness and transparency of its work and the duty on OFCOM to regulate at the minimum level compatible with its general duties - have precisely this aim in mind. A similar purpose has informed some of our later recommendations relating specifically to economic and content regulation. However, in the end, the onus in this area will lie on the Chairman when he or she is appointed, on the Chief Executive and on the new Board to ensure that OFCOM truly fulfils its purpose as a single regulator for the converging communications sector. We urge the Chairman of OFCOM, as an early priority upon appointment, to review the provisional arrangements put in place prior to that appointment, to ensure that his or her hands are not tied by assumptions made by existing regulators. The incoming Chairman needs a clean slate in order to create a new culture.

200   Clauses 20 and 21 and Schedules 2 and 12. Back

201   Policy, paras 3.7.1 - 3.7.3. Back

202   QQ 60, 61, 75. Back

203   QQ 55, 63, 78, 79, 718; Ev 20, para 2; Ev 244; Ev 249, paras 29-30. Back

204   Policy, para 3.4.1. Back

205   Q 977. Back

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