Ex-boss of UK's Competition and Markets Authority asks: How can it tackle Big Tech when no one knows what the CMA is?

On the other hand, he did have two years to raise watchdog's profile


The former head of the UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has put the boot into his old employer, saying it lacks the necessary clout to take on the world's biggest digital companies.

Former Tory MP Andrew Tyrie – now Lord Tyrie – was chair of the regulator between 2018 and 2020. In a report published by the Policy Institute think tank, he argued that for many businesses and consumers in the UK, the CMA is all but invisible.

The paper, titled "The Competition and Markets Authority: a reboot for the 2020s", found that two-thirds of businesses did not know that the CMA enforces competition law in the UK. Two-fifths said they had never heard of it.

While the report examines competition and regulation across all business sectors, it spends a good chunk of time focusing on activities in the digital space.

"The platforms, and digital technology, have brought huge gains for consumers. But they have also brought new and deeply concerning forms of detriment. Not least among them has been an aggravation of the trend of weakening competition," said the report.

Citing studies from the EU and US, the report agreed that the "market power of online platforms is getting stronger, and that competition policy has struggled to keep pace with the changes to markets and business models wrought by digitalisation."

It warned that the government will need to move quickly if it is going to have sufficient power to tackle those companies that push the boundaries of competition law, not just on issues such as fake reviews as announced recently, but on other concerns such as data harvesting.

While Tyrie was keen to point out the CMA's failings, he did offer some practical suggestions, including calling for tougher controls to be put in place – and quickly – to improve protections against dodgy practices. He also wants to see the introduction of a simple way to alert the CMA about potential rip-offs.

"The fact that so many businesses either haven't heard of the CMA, or don't understand what it does, is a very concerning state of affairs and cannot be allowed to persist. It urgently needs a stronger public voice, as without it, the CMA's ability to deter anti-competitive behaviour will be sharply reduced. Again, it is the consumer – millions of us – who lose out," said Tryie.

Last month, the current head of the UK's competition regulator said the body planned to "come down like a ton of bricks" on anyone attempting to stifle the country's economic recovery.

Jonathan Scott said the nation was now ready to "step up and fulfil the regulatory role previously held by the European Commission."

In the last month alone, the CMA has shone a spotlight on the activities Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google on issues ranging from fake reviews to alleged advertising abuses. ®

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