Ofcom would be scrapped and regulators stripped of policy-making responsibilities by a Tory government, David Cameron said today.
Singled out for criticism in a speech proposing cutbacks to the myriad quangos administering various policy areas, the communications regulator's successor should only have technical responsibilities such as awarding licences, Cameron said. Policy decisions would be taken by ministers, rather than an "unaccountable bureaucracy".
"With a Conservative Government, Ofcom as we know it will cease to exist. Its remit will be restricted to its narrow technical and enforcement roles," he told the Reform think tank in London.
That Ofcom should be top of Cameron's hit list is not surprising. It has more than 800 staff at its Southwark base, and its top brass are awarded some of the largest public sector salaries and benefits, including a total of about £400,000 for chief executive Ed Richards.
In political terms, Ofcom is seen as the most New Labour of quangos. Ed Richards' predecessor Stephen - now Lord - Carter went on to act as Gordon Brown's strategy advisor, and then communications minister. David Currie, who stepped down as Ofcom chairman this April, was previously a key advisor to Brown when he was Chancellor, and had been a major Labour donor.
Like Carter, Ed Richards worked as a Number 10 strategy advisor. Prior to that he was a Labour policy wonk and famously branded by then-BBC director general Greg Dyke - himself a Labour donor - as a "jumped-up Millbank oik".
Suffice it to say, the links between New Labour and Ofcom run deep, and the Tories most likely cannot wait to kneecap the organisation.
The Tories' manoeuvres against Ofcom will be watched with glee in Brussels. EU regulators have been engaged in a power struggle with their domestic counterparts, and hope to set up a "super regulator" to harmonise communications across the bloc. That said, the mostly Eurosceptic Conservatives will not hand powers stripped from Ofcom to Brussels.
Cameron said the Department of Culture, Media and Sport would take the policy reins. ®