Joint Committee on the Draft Communications Bill Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 77-79)


MONDAY 27 MAY 2002

  Chairman: Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. As you can see we are a hotter ticket than Madonna! Thank you very much, Mr Edmonds, for coming here. Can we kick off with some questions from Lord McNally.

Lord McNally

  77. I think the Committee is getting a little bit worried already that OFCOM is going to be unbalanced in its work, not because those who are running OFCOM are going to get it unbalanced but the tug will be towards the television/radio content side of its work which might leave the more technical side unexposed and underworked. Do you see this as a real danger? We have had already strong advocacy of the idea of a content board. Do you think it may be necessary for there to be a transmission or an economic board that reminds OFCOM that it has got these very, very important technical duties as well?

  (Mr Edmonds) I very much hope not. I would probably quarrel with your use of the word "technical". I think at the core of OFCOM is the economic regulation that this draft Bill sets out, the transposition into UK law of the European Directives. Alongside that core is the work that the Radiocommunications Agency currently does, the allocation of spectrum. My concept for the body is of an economic competition regulator with a bank of powers which are established very firmly by this legislation. The first section of the Bill is to do with the way economic regulation, competition regulation is going to be carried out in the UK. It is law which is transposed from a set of European Directives which means that the organisation cannot shirk its responsibilities, it cannot but carry out that range of activities, that range of duties. I have every confidence that with an organisation effectively designed with a structure which enables it to carry out those responsibilities they can get the balance right.

  78. You think the Bill effectively designs the organisation?
  (Mr Edmonds) No, I do not think it does. I think the Bill effectively sets out a range of duties, a range of activities, not options but a range of activities which must be carried out. As an economic regulator I cannot but regulate when somebody comes to me with a complaint. I cannot say "I am not going to deal with this". If I see a failure in the market place I am bound to investigate that failure and if I discover there is market failure I am bound to drive through action to redress it. That is central and absolutely integral to OFCOM. My hope is that the consultants who are working currently to advise the new board on possible frameworks will actually design an organisation that is carefully designed to carry out those functions. No, I do not think the Bill designs it, I think the Bill sets out what has got to be done by the organisation. I think it is up to the people who will be running it, the people who are advising them, to create an organisation where the form follows its functions. I am very optimistic that can be done.

  79. When will this effective design be in place then?
  (Mr Edmonds) Towers Perrin, who are the consultants appointed by the two departments and the five existing regulators, are working currently on a series of options designed to be ready to present to the Chair and the putative board by July/August of this year. One's hope is that as that work rolls out, the Chair of the new board is in place, the staff start to be appointed, there will be an organisational design which does follow very coherently the functions of the organisation. I think it is classic architectural design: form should follow function. I think there is every chance—because we are starting with a blank piece of paper—that OFCOM can be designed so that the imbalance that you are anxious about does not happen.

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