Treasury mandarin tipped for Ofcom top role

The word on the street is that Sharon White, currently second permanent secretary to the Treasury, has been formally recommended as the new Chief Exec of UK telecoms regulator Ofcom.

The rumour was first reported by Sky News, citing Whitehall sources as the source of the leak. It seems White’s name has been put forward as a recommendation to Culture Secretary Sajid Javid, who has the final say on who gets the gig. While Javid might reject the recommendation, if he doesn’t the appointment could be made official before the end of the year.

White is a career civil servant who is viewed as a bit of a rising star, having been appointed to her current treasury role at the end of October 2013. The Second Permanent Secretary to the Treasury has responsibility for how the public finances are spent, so White has therefore had a central role in the country’s supposed period of austerity, in which we attempt to increase the size of the national overdraft slightly less quickly than we have previously.

This experience has presumably involved regularly having to deliver bad news to people with entrenched interests, which might come in handy in her new role – if she gets it. One of her biggest immediate tasks may be to balance the apparent corporate ambitions of former state telecoms monopoly BT with competitive concerns.

Coincidentally Ofcom published its 2014 infrastructure report today, apparently designed to highlight its future challenges. The 192-page report is something Ofcom is obliged to produce every three years and offers a snapshot of the overall telecoms state of play in the UK.

Fixed line broadband is subdivided into basic (2-10Mbps), which 97% of the country gets; standard (10-30Mbps), which 85% of the country gets; and superfast (30+Mbps), which apparently 75% of us have access to, but only 21% opt to pay for, implying a degree of market failure there. On the mobile side, the national 3G and 4G coverage of the four MNOs is summarised in the table below.

Ofcom mobile coverage table

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