• Civil servant Dame Melanie Dawes takes on Ofcom CEO role
  • Watchdog chair Lord Burns agrees to step down amid changes
  • Government officials push Ofcom to expand into internet watchdog

Melanie Dawes

Melanie Dawes: Named chief executive at UK regulator Ofcom

The Ofcom Board has appointed Dame Melanie Dawes as chief executive, taking over from Sharon White, who has left the UK regulator. 

Dawes has been permanent secretary at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government since 2015 and is set to take up her new position in early March.

Dawes will step up as CEO, taking the reins from Ofcom director Jonathan Oxley who was appointed interim CEO last November, after White announced her departure to join John Lews Partnership as its chair.

IBC365 reported the rumours that Dawes would likely take on the role. As the UK’s most senior civil servant she boasts a three-decade career in the government, including 15 years at the Treasury, five years at HMRC and four years at the Cabinet Office. She also serves as the Civil Service’s diversity and inclusion champion in a role she took on earlier this year.

The watchdog also confirmed its chair Lord Burns has “agreed to step down to enable a new chair to be in place by the end of this year” agreeing to stay in the role until a suitable replacement is found, “to ensure a smooth transition”.

DCMS secretary of state Nicky Morgan said: “I congratulate Dame Melanie Dawes on her appointment as chief executive of Ofcom. Melanie’s experience leading organisations through change will be vital as the Government today announces it is minded to appoint the organisation as regulator for new online harms laws.

“I would also like to thank Lord Burns for his work as Chair of the organisation. He has provided expert stewardship and will leave the media and telecoms regulator in a strong position.”

In addition to her current permanent secretary role, Dawes chairs the Civil Service People Board, leading workforce strategies across all government departments.

Dawes said: “Ofcom plays a crucial role in ensuring that people and businesses across the UK get the best from their communications services.

“It’s a great privilege to be appointed as Chief Executive at a time of significant change in the sectors Ofcom regulates.”

Regulating the world wide web
Ofcom chairman Lord Burns added: “I am delighted that the secretary of state has approved Ofcom’s appointment of Dame Melanie Dawes as the next Chief Executive of Ofcom.

“The Government’s statement that it is minded to appoint Ofcom as the regulator for online harms is a vote of confidence in Ofcom’s expertise. I know Melanie will do a fantastic job of leading the organisation and maintaining its strengths.

“I look forward to working with her over the months ahead as we prepare for this forthcoming legislation as well as the ongoing tasks of achieving better broadband and mobile coverage and supporting UK broadcasting.”

According to government officials, Ofcom is set to become Britain’s first internet watchdog, given the role of regulating internet platforms to account for illegal and harmful content.

According to the FT, Nicky Morgan, digital media and culture secretary, will announce the expanded role today.

The online harms legislation, which is still being drafted, intends to place a legal “duty of care” on technology companies including Facebook and YouTube to ensure their users are not exposed to illegal material.

The programme to establish online harms as part of Ofcom’s remit is likely to take time to put in place.

In response to the government announcement, Ofcom released a short statement.

Oxley said: “We share the Government’s ambition to keep people safe online and welcome that it is minded to appoint Ofcom as the online harms regulator.

“We will work with the Government to help ensure that regulation provides effective protection for people online and, if appointed, will consider what voluntary steps can be taken in advance of legislation.”