On 3 December, the CMA launched a consultation on its draft annual plan for 2019/20.
The CMA acknowledges that much depends on the nature and timing of the UK’s exit from the EU and that it is making the “necessary preparations whether or not there is an implementation period after March 2019.” However, the CMA makes the point that if the UK were to leave the EU without a deal, it would be forced by statute to investigate all qualifying mergers and state aid cases. This additional responsibility would have an impact on its discretion to carry out other enforcement work and market studies and it would need to “take tough decisions on priorities, at pace, to be flexible to new circumstances.”
In light of the uncertainty surrounding the UK’s exit from the EU, the CMA states that is it consulting on a set of priority themes rather than specific objectives, however it expects there to be greater clarity by the time the final version of the annual plan is published in March 2019. The themes the CMA is proposing to focus on are:
- Protecting vulnerable customers: It is the CMA’s stated objective to prioritise cases where consumers may be losing out from illegal, anti-competitive or unfair trading practices because they are in a vulnerable position. It cites the work it has already done in this area, including investigations into anti-competitive practices in the supply of medicines to the NHS, a market study into funeral services and a consumer enforcement investigation into overcharging and misleading practices in the residential care home sector.
- Improving trust in markets: The CMA intends to prioritise cases in markets for everyday goods and services, so that typical consumers can be reassured that competition law is working in their interests. Examples of investigations in this area include supermarket promotion practices, online reviews and social media endorsements.
- Promoting better competition in online markets: The CMA states that although technology is transforming how companies operate and benefits consumers through increased choice, lower prices and greater efficiency, technology also provides risks of harm. The CMA has investigated the actions of companies operating online, and examples include its market study into digital comparison tools and its enforcement investigations into an Amazon Marketplace cartel, online auction platforms, online gambling, online hotel booking, secondary ticketing and the sale of home insurance products through price comparison websites. The CMA has also carried out research into pricing algorithms and whether they can be used to breach competition law.
- Supporting economic growth and productivity: The CMA continues in its stated objective to assist in addressing low productivity in the UK. It intends to prioritise cases in markets which “underpin and enable economic growth” and cites its work in markets such as audit services, which it considers to be of central significance to a well functioning economy.
The consultation runs until 13 January.