Outlook: Regulators are hard to find

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The Independent Online
Persuading top-notch businessmen and financiers to give up their six- figure salaries and three-year rollers for a job in regulation is not easy, as Howard Davies at the Financial Services Authority has already found. Now Margaret Beckett, President of the Board of Trade, is making a similar discovery. Her choice as chairman of the Government's new Competition Commission may well have been the most suitably qualified and most impressive of the four candidates shortlisted. Derek Morris is an economist, policy wonk, long-time member of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission and former leading light in that most corporatist of institutions, the National Economic Development Office (deceased).

But whatever else his talents, he is certainly not the high profile external candidate that had been expected to fill a high-profile and, for business, crucially important role in the new regulatory hierarchy.

Aside from the usual chores of vetting mergers and monopolies, Mr Morris will occupy a pivotal role as head of the independent tribunal that will hear appeals brought by the casualties of the new cartel-busting Office of Fair Trading. Since the powers that the new Competition Bill will confer on the OFT have already proved a flash point between Mrs Beckett and the business establishment, Mr Morris will need to be of independent mind and sure touch. The business community would probably have also liked a regulator with a little more commercial experience than 13 years as chairman of an economic forecasting organisation.

But perhaps Mr Morris is the face of our regulatory future. These posts are no longer easy to fill, as the previous government's long search for someone to run the OFT proved. The Government may have to accept similar types for Oftel and the merged energy regulator's office.