Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), has announced his plans for the authority to “deliver the greatest possible benefit for consumers in the 2020s”.
Coscelli particularly highlighted the need for the CMA to bolster its relationships with consumers and to spread awareness of the regulator’s work to the wider public.
In a speech at Policy Exchange on February 25 to mark the CMA’s sixth anniversary, Coscelli said, “Any taxpayer-funded system that is hard to explain and understand is likely to face challenges. And we should not be surprised that many consumers, whose interests we look after, do not know who we are or what we do.”
“A year ago, we reflected publicly on what we saw as significant shortcomings in the competition and consumer policy system. And we made proposals to Government on how to address them.
“We have also been reflecting on what we can do to address some of these challenges without changes in the legal framework. How we can improve our accountability, accessibility, representativeness and responsiveness to the taxpayers we serve.”
Coscelli listed some of the CMA’s recent notable successes, including the disqualification of company directors found guilty of wrongdoing, obtaining money back for vulnerable consumers treated unfairly by care homes, stamping out bad practices in the gambling sector and strengthening consumer protection against unfair penalties in the telecoms and financial services industries.
On the issue of “bringing the CMA closer to consumers”, Coscelli outlined three main areas of focus: to “know more and understand better”; to “explain the choices we make”; and to be “more visible and vocal”.
“To ensure we are delivering for people around the UK, we need to be confident we know what they want as consumers, and what their concerns are,” he said. “This is particularly the case for consumers whose characteristics – age, socio-economic status or disability – leave them vulnerable to getting bad deals or poor service.”
“We need to understand what it means when consumers get exploited by unscrupulous suppliers, and we need to see through the eyes of consumers the confusion that markets can present.
“That’s why we will be working with Citizens Advice and other bodies to put CMA staff more directly in touch with consumers.
“We don’t expect always to hear from consumers themselves. They are busy living their lives, after all. So we will embark on a bigger programme of engagement with consumer bodies and charities, with the aim of understanding the issues facing people and businesses in every nation and region of the UK.”
On the issue of greater transparency, Coscelli said the CMA will “improve how we choose which problems to take on, and do more to explain these decisions.
“We will use all the information we gather from getting closer to consumers to further develop how we choose where to use the public resources for which we are responsible,” he added.
And to become more “visible and vocal”, Coscelli said the CMA “will effect change through speaking up publicly as well as through enforcement.”
Looking to the future, Coscelli said: “Where we see potential breaches of the law, we will investigate and enforce against the perpetrators if proven. After all, we can only secure our legitimacy if we achieve robust enforcement outcomes on what the public believes to be the glaring injustices of the day. This work is – and will continue to be – our bread and butter.
“But where we can achieve more for consumers, or more quickly, through speaking up, we will do so; for example, by shining a light on undesirable behaviour, or through working in partnership with government policy-makers to help shape legislation that will protect consumers’ interests.
“Our task is to earn the trust, confidence and recognition of consumers. To let them know we’re on their side.”