David Currie on markets and the role of the CMA in Wales
Speech by CMA Chairman, David Currie, at the CMA board reception in Cardiff.
It is a great pleasure to be here once again in Cardiff and the Wales Millennium Centre and I’m pleased to see here tonight representatives from such a wide range of organisations. Some of you may have been here when the CMA hosted a reception in this very building just after we launched our new agency in 2014. We have come a long way since then and indeed the country has experienced significant change – a UK general election, a new administration in Wales with new ministers in key posts, the vote to leave the European Union, and the appointment of a new Prime Minister.
Amidst all this change, our determination to help ensure our markets are working well for consumers, businesses and the economy remains a constant.
Competition matters because it gives firms strong incentives to cut prices, cut costs and improve quality. We also see greater innovation where markets are working well. At the heart of all of this for the CMA is the customer, and ensuring they get a good deal.
In this context, a major area of focus for the CMA has been our market investigations in energy and banking. These have now been completed, both very directly affecting consumers throughout Wales.
On energy, over 30 measures will be brought in after the most comprehensive investigation into the market since privatisation. These will drive down costs by increasing competition between suppliers and helping more customers switch to better deals. For those often vulnerable customers on prepayment meters, whose options to switch suppliers are limited, we’ll cap prices until they too can benefit from competition. Only last week we started consultation on the detail of this price cap, which is expected to reduce their bills by an aggregate £300 million a year.
On banking, we are similarly imposing a package of measures which will ensure banks work harder for both personal and small business customers. At the heart of these is the Open Banking programme, which will harness the technological changes which we have seen transform other markets and help customers access new and innovative apps which will tailor services, information and advice to their individual needs. We are also requiring banks to set a monthly cap on unarranged overdraft charges, to publish trustworthy and objective information on their quality of service, and to prompt their customers at key moments to consider switching provider.
Our work covers the whole of the UK. The CMA’s devolved nations representatives, based across the cities of Edinburgh, Belfast and here in Cardiff, are key to ensuring that as an organisation we are able to gather insight and understanding of the particular circumstances of each nation. Simon Harris, as our Welsh Representative, ensures the CMA is represented in Wales but also that Wales is represented to the CMA.
I’m delighted we are joined this evening by Ken Skates, Cabinet Secretary for the Economy and Infrastructure. The CMA has an important role advising government of how best to harness competition to achieve policy and economic goals, and the Programme for Government published last month includes a number of areas where we are keen to engage with the Welsh government – rail franchising and procurement where we have already conducted significant work at the CMA – but we would also be keen to follow the development of the Cardiff Capital City Region and Swansea City Region.
We look forward to working with Ken and the Welsh government in the coming years.
And as we look ahead, I can highlight some areas where we have launched new work. By the end of this year we will publish a final report on the £12 billion legal services market. We have been consulting on our interim view, including here in Cardiff tomorrow, that upfront information on price and quality is often not available to consumers in order to allow them to choose the legal service that most suits their needs. Last month we kicked off a cross-economy review of what we are terming ‘digital comparison tools’, which of course include price comparison websites but also, increasingly, smartphone apps and the like. These are often really powerful mechanisms for people to get a better deal, but we are interested in whether they can work ever better for consumers.
Also on our forward agenda is developing our ambition to achieve greater business compliance with competition and consumer law. In part this is driven through taking strong action under the law where we discover breaches, and we are continuing to seek out and tackle a greater number of cases. But we know that most businesses want to follow the law and we are ensuring that when we complete cases, we bring the lessons widely and loudly to the attention of the firms that need to see them.
Last year we launched, in partnership with the Federation of Small Businesses, a range of competition law compliance materials which we want to promote to all businesses across the UK – your help in us doing this will be very welcome.
And this evening we can give you a preview through a short video of our materials on the use of unfair contract terms in consumer contracts, which we will launch on Monday, aiming to improve consumer and business relationships. We hope many of you in the room will help us to do this through your contacts and connections. I am sure Simon will be in touch.
I hope you take away from what I have said that we are keen to engage with and listen to consumer groups, businesses and their representatives, and government and regulatory colleagues in Wales to help inform our work. We want to hear from you if there are particular aspects of markets that raise concerns for consumers or businesses or that you think may be anti-competitive. Simon Harris will be very happy to meet and listen.