We created the Office of Communications – Ofcom to you and me – after a long pregnancy in 2003. It combined all of the previous regulators: the Broadcasting Standards Commission, the Independent Television Commission, Oftel, the Radio Authority and the Radiocommunications Agency. It didn’t know what to do with the internet and so it was sadly exempted and it resolutely refused to include the BBC. So, it wasn’t perfect but it was better than the previous incarnations.
Ofcom was the baby of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and yet much of its work resided in the Department of Trade and Industry (now BIS). Indeed, as we all know, when Vince Cable, business, innovation and skills secretary, was hijacked by undercover Telegraph journalists at the end of 2010, BIS had the responsibility for broadcast competition law. This was eventually transferred to the DCMS where it stills sits somewhat uncomfortably.
By common consent the DCMS was always a muddle. Under its remit sat tourism, a major UK business, plus aspects of Media and Sport. But it has survived as an entity for over 15 years and yet its responsibilities should be redistributed elsewhere. So I am going to suggest that we rethink how Whitehall works now so we are ready for government in 2015. And top of my list would be a new Department of Communications (DComms).
DComms would mirror Ofcom but take back all its policy work. A new Comms Act would end the BBC Trustees farce and make it the responsibility of Ofcom. It is possible to regulate parts of the internet. Indeed, you could license ISPs. The internet cannot be left languishing between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence (cyberterrorism), Home Office (illegal pornography et al) and BIS and DCMS (IP/copyright/broadband/competition law/creative industries). As the world goes mobile, it is important our voters have one port-of-call in government and one port-of-call as a regulator. The current mishmash is simply unsustainable.
Of course, you cannot fashion a new Comms department without reorganising the existing DCMS. Sport is another mess. UK Sport and Sport England were going to merge but Sir Keith Mills’ recent report suggested a total rethink for sports policy per se and that was before the gold rush at the London 2012 Olympics. We have been struggling for too long as a party to have a coherent view on sport.
This decade is the sporting decade. We have hosted the friendliest Olympics ever and are about to host the finest Paralympics too. Rugby League will tackle its own world cup and we will have the Champions League Final both in 2013. Glasgow will follow London (1934), Cardiff (1958), Edinburgh (1970 and 1986) and Manchester (2002) with the Commonwealth Games in 2014. Twickenham will welcome back the Rugby World Cup in 2015. In 2017, we have the track and field world championships and in 2019 England and Wales will play host to the cricket world cup. This is rich by any standards.
So let’s be brave and take sport from DCMS and let it breathe with its own secretary of state. Give it the responsibility for the health and wellbeing of the nation by making it responsible for school and university sport and health education. Let’s be more flexible about how we refashion Whitehall.
Of course, I recognise that these changes will deplete the current DCMS (which has been savaged by the current Tory administration). My sense is that culture should be moved to the Department of Education.
So, drums rolling, will you welcome the new Whitehall departments to be known as DComms and no, not DoS but DoSH (just kidding)?
Derek Wyatt founded dot.tv on BSkyB, the first family computer channel (1995), the Oxford Internet Institute (2000), a Digital Week for the Nation (2007) & the Women’s Sports Foundation (UK) in 1984.
In 1987 he was awarded a commendation from the UNO for his work in stopping the British Lions tour to apartheid South Africa in 1985. In another life he played rugby for Oxford University, the Barbarians and England.
He was Labour MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey from 1997-2010.
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