LEADING ARTICLE: The finger points at resignation

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The Independent Online
"You'd better bring him out here and let us deal with him," the mob cried. But Virginia stood her ground. No one was going to get their hands on the lottery regulator, Peter Davis, until there had been a proper trial. Mad Dennis Skinner could howl as much as he liked. "Black" Jack Cunningham could do his worst, but she refused to offload the head of Oflot until she had "considered the matter very carefully". A "kneejerk" reaction was not appropriate, she said, so Mr Davis was spared to fight another day.

The lynch-happy citizens of Parliament, UK (population 651), had taken to the streets because of revelations about the regulator in the backwash of last week's claim and counterclaim concerning Richard Branson and the American company GTech. Mr Branson claims that he informed Mr Davis of an attempt by GTech executives to bribe him. GTech rejects the original allegation and Mr Davis denies that he was so informed.

This is not, however, why Labour was calling for Mr Davis's head. Mr Branson's accusations and the response to them now look likely to end up in court. But during the week it transpired that, while in America last year, Mr Davis had flown in a GTech plane and that he is a close personal friend of a senior member of the GTech board. Important MPs, including the chairman of the influential Public Accounts Committee, Robert Sheldon, have argued that these facts cast doubt on Mr Davis's judgement.

Is this fair? Mr Davis, a staid accountant of understated mien, argues that he only availed himself of the GTech jet to travel between GTech sites, that this saved money, and that he submitted a full and detailed account to the Department of National Heritage immediately on his return. Yet it was revealed later that the Department of National Heritage had specifically advised Mr Davis that the cost of flights should be borne by Oflot. This advice was ignored by Mr Davis. Under these circumstances, the only appropriate form of action is that he should tender his resignation.

Mr Davis ought to reflect on why it is that so many people are dissatisfied with his performance. Bluntly, they are not convinced that his attitude to the monopoly that runs the lottery, Camelot (22.5 per cent owned by GTech), has been anything like robust enough. True, the terms of the contract with Camelot were laid down by Parliament and Mr Davis was limited to ensuring the proper running of the lottery and seeing that money was getting through to charities.

But Mr Davis has interpreted this role in the most restricted way possible. While Camelot has made vast profits, the regulator has stayed silent on the question of whether some charities have lost out badly, on whether Parliament might look again at the formula for funding good causes, and on whether there should be major changes in the way the contract is handled next time.

Contrast this supine attitude with the pro-active way that Don Cruickshank from Oftel (telecommunications) has dealt with issues in his area, including Mr Blair's autumn BT brainwave. Now that's what consumers call regulation.