Lord Blackwell who criticised the government for getting in the way of free enterprise before the dot com crash has joined the board of Ofcom
A conservative peer who has attacked the government for interfering with the “raw power of market forces” has been appointed as a non executive director of communications watchdog Ofcom.
In a statement released this week, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) said the government had appointed Lord Norman Blackwell to the Ofcom Board effective from the 1 September citing his “significant chairmanship and plc board leve experience”.
According to business secretary Lord Mandelson, Lord Blackwell, who previously held director and chairman roles at Smartstream Technologies and Dixons plc amongst others, will use his commercial experience to help Ofcom. “Lord Blackwell’s knowledge of public policy and strategy, combined with his commercial experience in business and finance will be invaluable in helping Ofcom deliver greater choice and innovation across the communications sector during these challenging economic times.”
Despite the “challenging economic times” however the government revealed that the conservative peer will be paid around “£42,519 p.a. for up to two days a week” for his “non executive” role.
Commenting on the appointment, Ofcom chairman Colette Bowe said: ‘I am extremely pleased that the Board will be strengthened by someone of Lord Blackwell’s business experience and intellectual stature. He will be a significant asset to Ofcom.”
The choice of Lord Blackwell for a board seat at the regulator may surprise some given his stated views on the importance of free markets and the need for less government regulation. “If we are to succeed in the new world of electronic trading, we need more than ever a true enterprise culture. The scale of the e-commerce revolution will need the raw power of market forces to make it happen, with the potential to create millionaires and, more importantly, the potential to drive established businesses to the wall when they do not adapt and change. Such a revolution will not come about in a protected environment. It will come about rapidly only if the full forces of market power are unleashed,” Lord Blackwell said in a speech back in 1999.
In the same speech – shortly before the dot com bubble imploded in March 2000 – Blackwell criticised the Labour government for its over-regulaton of business but congratulated the Tories for allowing companies such as BT the room to flourish. “How has this come about? How have we reached this enviable position? It is because over the past 20 years government in the UK have got out of the way. They privatised BT, deregulated telecommunications and stopped protecting national champions…We succeeded in achieving this position by allowing market forces to work.”
Given that many commentators and experts put the blame for much of the current economic crisis down to a lack of regulation particularly in the banking sector, it is not clear whether Lord Blackwell has changed his views since 1999.
“The notion of leaving things to raw market forces is an alien concept to the Government and to the party to which they belong. So they intervene and regulate. Because the Government have never really come to terms with profit as a good thing, Ministers have no qualms about loading all kinds of hidden taxes and burdens on business to try to achieve their social objectives without having to face up to the costs by imposing taxes through the front door,” he said at the time.