Ofcom rebukes James Murdoch but rules that Sky is "fit and proper"

Report says that Murdoch "repeatedly fell short of the conduct to be expected of him".

After a lengthy investigation, Ofcom announced this morning that BSkyB is a "fit and proper owner" of a broadcast licence. That will come as a relief to the Murdochs, who own a lucrative 39.9% stake in the company and whose handling of the phone-hacking scandal triggered the review.

However, it's worth noting that the report is sharply critical of James Murdoch, who, in its words, "repeatedly fell short of the conduct to be expected of him as chief executive officer and chairman". It added that "his failure to initiate action on his own account on a number of occasions" was both "difficult to comprehend and ill-judged". The unspoken implication is that had Murdoch not already resigned as chairman of BSkyB, Ofcom would have ruled that it was not "fit and proper".

Of Rupert Murdoch it said: "We do not consider that the evidence currently available to Ofcom provides a reasonable basis on which to conclude that Rupert Murdoch acted in a way that was inappropriate in relation to phone hacking, concealment or corruption by employees of NGN or News International."

Ofcom said James Murdoch's failure to take action over phone-hacking was "difficult to comprehend and ill-judged". Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.