In her annual speech to Parliament on 18 May 2016, the Queen announced Government proposals to “improve Britain’s competitiveness” and “open up markets, boost competition, give consumers more power and choice and make economic regulators work better”.
Improved antitrust enforcement
Whilst the detail is yet to be revealed, the Government’s Better Markets Bill is to contain provisions to speed-up the decision-making process during competition investigations and “make the whole process easier for businesses and better for consumers”.
The UK antitrust watchdog, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), is also expected to gain new powers enabling it to fight anticompetitive behaviours more effectively. This announcement comes amidst reports that the Government had been looking into whether the national regulator has the right tools to carry out its mission.
The background notes prepared by the Government also mention that regulators will now aim to help businesses comply with competition rules before taking enforcement action.
The CMA welcomed this announcement and has committed to working closely with the Government to explore ways of improving the competition regime.
Energy market reforms
The background notes emphasise the Government’s commitment to act quickly on the CMA’s final recommendations to Government to be issued as part of the package of remedies to be adopted following the conclusion of the energy market investigation (the final report of which is due to be published next month). This is likely to include measures to remove and simplify aspects of the regulatory framework that have been heavily criticised during the investigation.
Empowering consumers to switch
The Better Markets Bill also includes proposals to give consumers more choice by making it easier to switch from one provider to another. The Bill also proposes to increase protection for consumers when a dispute arises with a supplier.
The Government hopes that these changes will open up markets to new entrants and lead to new and innovative products and services at lower costs, which will benefit consumers across the UK.
This proposal comes in the context of a general push to promote competition in all regulated sectors, and as competition authorities appear to take greater interest in the role played by price comparison websites.
The Government is now expected to run several consultations on the proposed Bill.