U.K.’s Competition Watchdog Needs Major Overhaul, Ex-Chair Says

The U.K.’s antitrust regulator is in need of a drastic overhaul because most of the country’s businesses don’t know what it does, the watchdog’s former chairman said.

Around two-thirds of businesses aren’t aware that the Competition and Markets Authority enforces the country’s competition law, while two-fifths have never heard of the agency, according to new research published by King’s College London and the Centre for Policy Studies.

“It urgently needs a stronger public voice, as without it, the CMA’s ability to deter anti-competitive behaviour will be sharply reduced,” Andrew Tyrie, a former Conservative Party lawmaker who led the regulator for two years until 2020 and authored the report, said. “Again, it is the consumer – millions of us – who lose out.”

Under Tyrie’s tenure, the regulator began to set out proposals to rein in the power of big tech firms and scrutinized acquisitions by Alphabet Inc., Facebook Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. He left the CMA after just two years at its helm, saying at the time that he wanted to be liberated to make the case more strongly for legislative reform than he was able to in the role.

The CMA is set to push for greater influence on the global antitrust stage as a standalone regulator post-Brexit.

“The CMA is absolutely committed to delivering for consumers across the U.K.,” “We have always been clear that there is more we could do with stronger and more flexible powers and have submitted proposals to this effect to the government.”

The report recommends that the watchdog refocuses itself on investigations that maximize consumer welfare. The CMA’s board should follow the U.K. Parliament’s legislation and take back control decisions of what to investigate away from a small group of executives.

He also recommended the regulator should play a more active role in advising and assisting the government on “pro-competitive, pro-consumer policy,” according to the report.

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