U.K. Urged to Overhaul Competition Rules to Help Consumers

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The U.K. should overhaul competition rules to speed up rulings and give consumers more choice, according to a government-commissioned review.

John Penrose, the Conservative member of Parliament who carried out the review, recommended speeding up decision-making at the Competition and Markets Authority, giving it more powers over consumer rights, and breaking from European Union rules on awarding government contracts.

“Our system needs to be updated, improved and refreshed,” Penrose wrote. “Stronger competition and consumer choices mean more jobs, make exporting firms more likely to win contracts, and give British consumers and business customers a wider range of high quality goods and services at more competitive prices.”

The report comes as Boris Johnson’s government seeks ways to reduce red tape and boost the competitiveness of domestic companies as it seeks to demonstrate the advantages of leaving the EU. The Penrose report recommended eliminating two old rules for every new regulation introduced.

The CMA should be elevated to become the “micro-economic sibling” to the Bank of England, responsible for tracking competition, consumer rights and productivity improvements, according to the review, which was commissioned in September by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

The review also recommended:

  • A new Competition Act to “update and modernize our institutions for the new digital economy”
  • More civil consumer enforcement powers for the CMA, including the ability to use penalties for non-compliance with its probes
  • A simpler appeals process should be channeled through the Competition Appeals Tribunal, with County Competition Courts for local cases
  • That the government “in general” shouldn’t subsidize particular industries, even though Brexit gives the U.K. more freedom to do so

CMA Chief Executive Officer Andrea Coscelli welcomed the report and said he shared Penrose’s ambitions.

“New legislation could make the competition and consumer protection regime stronger, swifter and more flexible so that we can deliver even more for U.K. consumers and businesses,” Coscelli said in a statement.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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