Government to clip Ofcom's powers

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has announced plans to strip Ofcom of a number of powers as part of the government's efficiency drive, including returning the policy-setting role to the secretary of state.

Ofcom: remit has been reduced
Ofcom: remit has been reduced

In July, culture secretary Jeremy Hunt announced a number of the department’s 55 public bodies were set to be merged, abolished or streamlined as part of the government’s drive to cut costs and increase transparency, accountability and efficiency.

Today, the DCMS announced Ofcom will no longer have the flexibility to implement changes to its governance structures, and any revised structure will now require the approval of the secretary of state.

In addition, the DCMS intends to remove Ofcom's duty to review public service broadcasting every five years and review the media ownership rules every three years. Both reviews will now be implemented at the discretion of the secretary of state.

Ofcom would no longer be automatically required to review a "change of control" to a channel-three licensee or channel five, but the secretary of state will retain the power to request one, and the fit and proper person's regime on new owners will remain.

Hunt said: "Across government we are increasing the efficiency, transparency and accountability of public bodies, while at the same time cutting their number and cost. As part of that, I will be abolishing or reforming a number of bodies in the culture, media and sport sectors.

"These changes will allow us to continue to deliver some of the world’s best culture, media and sport, while at the same time ensuring efficiency, transparency and better value for money for the public."

Public service broadcasters will no longer be obliged to provide Ofcom will annual statements of programme policy and Ofcom will not be required to promote development opportunities for training and equality of opportunity.

In addition, the regulator will not have to review the regional channel- three networking arrangement review annually, but, instead, have a reserve power to assess the arrangement as required.

The changes to Ofcom will form part of the Public Bodies Bill that cabinet minister Francis Maude announced this morning. The Bill will close 192 public bodies and reform a further 289.

A spokesman for the Cabinet Office said the Public Bodies Bill was currently being drafted and will be introduced to the House shortly,       and that dates for the Bill’s parliamentary stages would be announced in the usual way.

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