Speech given by CMA Chairman, David Currie, at the CMA board reception in Wales.
It is a pleasure to welcome you all here tonight. The devolved nations are a key focus for the new Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). That is why the board is meeting here in Cardiff tomorrow, and board members and other senior CMA colleagues are here tonight.
Also here are our Devolved Nations Team – Sheila Scobie, Simon Harris, Marian Cree and Hannah Frodsham. We considerably expanded this team as we moved to assume our powers at the beginning of April, reflecting our commitment to be a UK-wide organisation. Now in addition to our dedicated office in Edinburgh we also have Simon Harris here in Cardiff and a representative in Belfast. This enhanced capacity ensures that as an organisation we are able to gather insight and understanding of the particular circumstances of all the devolved nations and also promote and explain the work we do to stakeholders, partners and consumers across the UK.
To that end, this afternoon the board and I have met with a number of key players including, among others, the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport, CBI Wales, Citizens Advice Cymru, the Welsh Local Government Association and the South Wales Chamber of Commerce. These key partners are central to our efforts ensuring that the social, economic and political differences in Wales are properly considered by the CMA in moving forward.
In the next few minutes I would like to take you through the CMA’s aims and mission, our ongoing work and our commitment to be a UK-wide organisation. Firstly though a few words on where we are at the moment.
Since April, the CMA has been fully up and running and delivers real benefits to consumers and the economy, the ultimate test.
We have a very strong board and leadership team, working to deliver our agreed strategy and vision, and talented staff with a great mix of skills and experience for our type of work.
CMA’s aims and missions
The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act of 2013 gives us the primary duty to promote competition, both within and outside the United Kingdom, for the benefit of consumers. Given that, our chosen mission is to make markets work well, in the interests of consumers, businesses and the economy. Our overall ambition is consistently to be among the leading competition and consumer agencies in the world.
We will do that through delivering on 5 strategic goals:
- first, effective enforcement – targeted and effective enforcement deters anti-competitive behaviour and builds a platform for greater compliance and understanding of the law
- second, extending competition frontiers – examining and promoting the role of competition in new and rapidly changing markets
- third, refocusing consumer protection – working closely with our consumer partners across the UK and with sector regulators
- fourth, achieving professional excellence – ensuring every case, study and project is handled efficiently, transparently and fairly
- fifth, developing integrated performance – working closely with business, consumer, regulatory, international and other organisations. I’m therefore pleased to see here tonight representatives from such a wide range of organisations
We are also putting in place an ambitious and expanded approach to business compliance with competition and consumer law. We will be looking to tie up more closely our enforcement outcomes with our work on compliance by ensuring that when we complete cases from which lessons can be drawn we bring those lessons to the attention of the firms that need to see them. We are also committed to conducting a programme of UK-wide research to better understand business awareness and understanding of the law and will use the results to improve our strategies for compliance work going forward.
In our Annual Plan, we have set out our priorities and work programme for the first 12 months. The plan focuses on merger control, market studies and inquiries, and enforcement of competition and consumer law. We currently have a busy workload, inherited from the Office of Fair Trading and Competition Commission: 20 live competition enforcement and consumer cases, 30 merger cases and 2 ongoing phase 2 market investigations.
That gives us a full agenda. Just within the last few weeks we have:
- successfully prosecuted a multi-million pound pyramid selling scheme, the sentences handed down last week were custodial
- published a review on problem debt, analysing the work of some 150 organisations operating in this area and drawing out effective ways to tackle those debts which adversely impact consumers
- set out proposals to increase price competition between payday lenders, ahead of the introduction of price caps in this market
We have been consulting on undertaking a full-scale market investigation into the retail banking market, including both personal current accounts and SME banking, and will announce the outcome of that decision soon. And we are undertaking a full market investigation into the domestic energy market, on which our team are listening to views from a range of consumer and business groups including British Gas here in Cardiff. Our projects have UK-wide impact and we work with organisations and partners throughout the UK to deliver them.
We rightly set ourselves some clear targets for the year. We committed to launching 4 new Competition Act investigations – these are now up and running. We said we would start at least 4 new pieces of markets work – 2 are underway, 2 to go. And we promised to initiate 3 cases or projects that focus on widespread or endemic practices that negatively impact on consumer decision-making or choice – 2 such projects are now live, with one more to undertake.
We are building the right portfolio of cases, selecting the right cases to investigate and will deliver robust, well-reasoned and timely outcomes in those cases. Over time we need a portfolio of cases covering both large and small markets and businesses across the UK and involving infringements that are more established and those that are less familiar. The Devolved Nations Team is feeding into the CMA’s projects to ensure that our work covers sectors of most importance for the UK as a whole and each of the devolved nations.
CMA as a UK-wide organisation
Simon Harris, our representative here in Cardiff, is focusing on helping the CMA to be more effective in reaching out and responding to the different economic and political dynamics here in Wales. At the CMA board meeting tomorrow we will be considering how we can become better still.
We are strengthening our capacity to respond effectively to devolution and to establish and build local relations. We need to be informed from across the UK to help us decide on our priorities, to help us decide where our market investigation and studies will make a difference for business and consumers – your voice is important to help us focus on the right issues. Next month we launch the consultation for next year’s Annual Plan, it’s your chance to let us know your thoughts; we very much look forward to your input.
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 in Wales to help inform our work and processes. We want to hear from you if there are particular aspects of markets that raise concerns or that you think may be anti-competitive. Simon Harris will be very happy to meet and listen.
Thank you once again for coming tonight and I look forward to discussing with you how the CMA can best ensure it represents Welsh interests.