Boost for Britain's markets watchdog taking on tech titans


Ministers to examine plans to beef up Britain’s markets watchdog after furious intervention by its former chairman Lord Andrew Tyrie

Ministers will examine plans to beef up Britain’s markets watchdog after a furious intervention by its former chairman Lord Andrew Tyrie. 

Business Minister Lord Callanan said he is ‘happy to take another look’ at Lord Tyrie’s proposals to bolster the regulator in its fight against tech giants and firms that rip off consumers.

Lord Tyrie pushed for reforms at the Competition and Markets Authority in February 2019. He wanted the CMA to take swifter action against offenders and levy larger fines on those who failed to co-operate with investigators. 

Intervention: Lord Tyrie pushed for reforms at the Competition and Markets Authority in February 2019

Intervention: Lord Tyrie pushed for reforms at the Competition and Markets Authority in February 2019

But his campaign appeared to hit the buffers in June when he resigned as chairman. Reports at the time suggested he had fallen out with other board members over his reforms. Lord Tyrie, who became one of the most high-profile figures in the City as head of the Treasury Select Committee after the financial crisis, has now used his position in the House of Lords to press for an overhaul of the ‘struggling’ CMA. 

He complained that the CMA could only fine Amazon £30,000 for failing to hand over vital information, whereas the EU had fined Facebook £1.6million for a similar breach. He also said officials must have the power to probe digital databases for information on companies. 

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Lord Tyrie said: ‘[The CMA] needs to be able to use the full range of tools to best bear down on consumer detriment. It is struggling to do that at present, and increasingly so with the growth of rip-off culture.

‘When the Minister returns to his department, he will find the proposals, of which I am just touching the surface, have been fully developed by the CMA and are sitting with his officials. Will he agree to take another look at those proposals to see what might usefully be drawn from them?’ 

In response, Callanan indicated Tyrie’s proposals were back on the table. 

Separately, a report has revealed how the CMA cracked down on independent convenience stores during the spring lockdown when prices for essential items such as loo rolls, eggs, flour and rice shot up by an average 160 per cent. 

There were more than 7,600 complaints about firms ramping up prices between March 10 and June 28, according to a CMA report in the Review of Industrial Organisation. In these cases, hand sanitiser prices soared by an average 400 per cent. 

The CMA’s research found low-income areas faced the most aggressive price rises. It said it had warned convenience store groups such as Costcutter and Spar about the behaviour of franchisees. 

A CMA spokesman said: ‘We remain of the view that reform is in the interests of consumers. It is for the Government to decide whether to bring forward legislation.’ 

A spokesman for Costcutter said it ‘swiftly’ took action against so-called price gouging by its retailers. 

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