Antitrust laws to be toughened

David Cameron will unveil plans to shake-up Britain’s competition regime, making it easier to pursue anti-trust investigations and slashing the amount of time it takes to complete them.

Speaking at the annual conference of employers’ organisation the CBI, the Prime Minister will say the government is “determined to help new entrants challenge big business”.

“Today, some industries are too uncompetitive, with significant barriers to entry and obstacles to growth. We’re going to challenge the status quo,” Cameron is expected to say.

“We want to reduce the uncertainty and the length of time it takes to make a decision in the current system. Above all, we want to help new companies break into existing markets.”

Business secretary Vince Cable, who is speaking after the Prime Minister, will confirm the merger of the Office of Fair Trading and the Competition Commission, and announce a raft of reforms designed to create “a much tougher and more streamlined competition regime”.

Cable is expected to say that anti-trust cases take too long to carry out, and rarely result in prosecutions, making it harder for new firms to gain market share from established players.

“Competition Act cases have taken on average three and a half years between the investigation to a final decision. This is too slow – hardly the ‘efficient and timely processes’ that the CBI has called for,” Cable will say.

Cable is also expected to announce a wide-ranging review into corporate governance, which will look at everything from executive pay to takeover bids.

Last week, the Takeover Panel recommended modest changes to the takeover code, but the business secretary wants to go much further in restricting the rights of short-term shareholders that buy up stock in anticipation of a deal.

Neither Cameron nor Cable, however, are expected to address rising levels of taxation and regulation, which were both cited as the biggest problems facing firms in a CBI survey.

The CBI said that four issues – regulation, taxation, infrastructure and planning – overshadowed everything else as considerations as to whether firms should abandon the UK .

This week, the government will announce a flurry of initiatives aimed at moving the emphasis off of cuts and on to economic growth, ahead of third quarter growth statistics due later this week, which some fear may be disappointing.

Increasingly, the coalition is talking up small business while bashing so-called “big business” as it seeks to capitalise on a populist anti-City mood.”