Watchdogs face merger as cuts begin

THE Competition Commission (CC) and the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) could merge to form a single oversight body as early as next year, it has emerged.

According to the BBC, the coalition government could revive earlier plans by Labour to combine the two market watchdogs. The BBC said that the marriage is currently on the cards.

Sources close to the two bodies have suggested that once the current CC chairman, Peter
Freeman, stands down from his post, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
(BIS) could move to merge the two bodies.

Documents from BIS, which oversees both the OFT and CC, show that the governmental department is currently reviewing competition law in the UK, as well as the role of both CC and the OFT. The review is part of its structural reform plan.

The document said: “Review competition law and the roles of the competition authorities relating to Competition Commission and the Office of Fair Trading.”

The review is set to end in January 2011, just one month after Freeman retires from his role at the CC.

“Both have been around for a long time. It [a merger] would be a momentous event and will deliver a thorough shock to their systems,” said one source close to the situation.

Another said: “Right now having two agencies is very expensive and the competition commission’s investigations are very intensive and thus costly. Can the government save money by merging the two?”

A spokesperson from BIS said: “BIS is currently in the process of looking at its partner organisations. Any further actions will be made in due course.”

It comes as the OFT and CC published joint merger guidelines yesterday for the first time ever.
The joint merger assessment guidelines have been designed to provide greater clarity to companies and advisers on how both bodies will assess the competitive impact of a merger.
Lawyers have praised the move as a “productive step forward”.