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OECD Reviews of Regulatory Reform: United Kingdom 2002

Challenges at the Cutting Edge

image of OECD Reviews of Regulatory Reform: United Kingdom 2002

The OECD's review of regulatory reform in the UK. The review finds that the United Kingdom presents a stimulating contrast of tradition and modernity, which is reflected in a mature and innovative regulatory system. The broad sweep of its reforms is impressive. Continuous reforms of the regulatory management system, the competition policy and law as well as in the regulatory regimes of key economic sectors are a strong basis for ensuring high quality regulation contributing further to drive economic performance. The UK was early in liberalising its public utilities and in developing new regulatory approaches to the complex problems of managing the network industries. It was also among the first countries to introduce a system of regulatory impact assessment, which, along with competition policy and law, has been continuously updated since. It has a reputation for having a regulatory environment that is among the most supportive of market openness and global competition in the world. The UK now faces challenges typical of a mature regulatory regime at the cutting edge of developments. Complexity and diversity - of regulatory objectives, of the institutional architecture and of procedures - are major issues to be continuously monitored. Building on these efforts and continuing to address regulatory challenges and areas of weaknesses will permit the UK to maintain itself as a leader in regulatory governance.

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Telecommunications Sector

The UK has been an OECD leader in the liberalisation of its telecommunications sector. From the 1980s onwards, the market has been progressively opened up. The 1984 Telecommunications Act (TAct) was the first major change. The incumbent monopolist, British Telecommunications (BT), was privatised in 1984 and an independent regulator (OFTEL) set up at the same time to provide safeguards such as a universal service obligation on BT and a price control regime. Fixed line competition started in a modest way as a duopoly with Mercury Communications (Mercury). Analogue cellular mobile telephony competition started in 1985 with the award of licences to Cellnet (then 60% owned by BT) and Racal-Vodafone.

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