Cruickshank to quit as Oftel chief

Don Cruickshank, the telephones regulator, yesterday surprised the industry by revealing that he did not want to continue in the job when his contract expires next spring.
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Mr Cruickshank had been expected to extend his outspoken reign at Oftel, the telecommunications watchdog, when his five-year contract finished at the end of March. But he announced that he had decided as early as last Christmas to look for a new job in the private sector and had told the new government the news on 8 May. "Five years was long enough for me," he said.

Insisting that money was not a factor in his decision, he admitted he would probably improve on his current pay package in a private sector post. Last year Mr Cruickshank earned pounds 126,400. One option was a new job with a communications company.

Mr Cruickshank denied suggestions of any rift with Labour. "There's absolutely no falling out between me and the Government over matters of policy. This is me personally taking a view of what I wanted to do."

Margaret Beckett, President of the Board of Trade, said he had made a "major contribution to developing the regulatory regime" in a complex and fast-moving industry. The Department of Trade and Industry is considering his recent proposal to replace individual regulators with commissions in its review of utility regulation. Oftel argued this would speed-up decision-making, by making regulators less isolated. But Mr Cruickshank has consistently refused to back suggested moves to merge Oftel with the Independent Television Commission to form a single communications regulator.

James Dodd, a telecoms analyst with Dresdner Kleinwort Benson, said the departure would put Labour's telecommunications policy under closer scrutiny. "It was generally perceived that BT was likely to be more at home under Labour. We'll have to see whether his successor is any more accommodating to BT's domestic ambitions."

Mr Cruickshank joined Oftel after the turbulent nine-year tenure of Sir Bryan Carsberg. A former senior executive with the Pearson media empire, Mr Cruickshank was managing director of Richard Branson's Virgin empire between 1984 and 1989. He later had spells as head of Wandsworth Health Authority and of the Scottish National Heath Service.

His time at Oftel saw continual skirmishes with BT as the domestic phone market opened to competition, culminating in last year's bitter battle over price controls which resulted in new powers for the regulator to ban anti-competitive behaviour.