The proposed new chairman of the oft-criticised UK antitrust watchdog has implied he will ramp up the body's level of investigations and enforcement, with parliament expected to shortly approve the new appointment.
Former MP Andrew Tyrie, until last year chair of the influential Treasury Select Committee, has been nominated to be the new Chair of the Competition and Markets Authority.
In confirming the nomination, which must first face a hearing with the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee, business secretary Greg Clark said Tyrie is a “proven consumer champion and competition advocate”, pointing to his strong record of independence as select committee chair, “ideally suited to leading the CMA at this critical time”.
“I have no doubt he will make good use of his extensive policy, economic and financial experience to entrench the CMA post-Brexit as one of the world's leading regulatory and enforcement bodies.”
Tyrie, who has been called the “Rottweiler of committee chairs” and served as the chairman of the parliamentary commission on banking standards and chair of the TSC from 2010 to 2017, said: “Making markets work for the benefit of millions of people is what the CMA is all about.
“In the years ahead, competition can and should be put even closer to the centre of British economic life, reaching to every sector, rooting out monopoly and unfair trading practices, and enhancing Britain's global competitiveness into the bargain.”
Tyrie's experience in finance and commerce including board roles in investment management and property firms, and as an advisor to the law firm DLA Piper.
The CMA's responsibility for carrying out investigations into mergers, markets and the regulated industries as well as enforcing competition and consumer law, including investigating where there may be breaches of UK or EU prohibitions against anti-competitive agreements and abuses of dominant positions with the power to bring criminal proceedings against individuals who commit cartel offences.
But the watchdog has sometimes been derided as rather toothless, if not inconsistent, in recent years. Its 2016 investigations into the electricity market and into the banking market were both widely derided for doing little to lessen the dominance of the industries' dominant players. And when the CMA unconditionally waved through Tesco, Britain's largest supermarket group, taking over Booker, Britain's largest wholesaler, in a £3.7bn deal last year, there was an industry uproar.
Coming not long after it “singularly derailed” Poundland's acquisition of 99p Stores with a prolonged investigation into a deal “that really did not create waves in British retailing”, analyst Clive Black at Shore Capital wondered “What on earth is going on? How Booker's competitors and many suppliers in the wholesale trade must be thinking today. Why an earth did they bother making submissions, paying lawyers and expending energy analysing to death the British grocery retail and wholesale market only for the CMA to seemingly clear the deal unconditionally.”
But that came as the authority was said to have “visibly reinvigorated” last year, according to the Global Competition Review's annual ranking of the world's top antitrust authorities, praising the CMA for ramping up its activity in a “a big turnaround… from where they were 3 years ago.”
Tyrie's nomination on Wednesday came as the CMA said it was launching a formal investigation into Trinity Mirror's £126m purchase of Northern & Shell's Express and Star newspapers.
One of the next jobs for the CMA could be undertaking a market study of the digital advertising market, after the Lords Communications Committee also on Wednesday called for an investigation “to ensure that it is working fairly for businesses and consumers”.