The CMA has published its draft Annual Plan for 2023 to 2024, and is inviting interested parties to submit their views on its propositions, and to comment on whether there are any other issues they think the CMA should look at. The draft plan sets out the themes that the CMA expects to guide its work in the coming year. The CMA is taking a new approach to its Annual Plan consultation this year, by setting out the plan in two time horizons: key areas of focus for the next 12 months, along with medium-term priorities for the next three years.
The draft plan begins by setting out the CMA's purpose of helping people, businesses and the UK economy by promoting competitive markets and tackling unfair behaviour. It then explains its ambitions of delivering fair deals to people, ensuring businesses can innovate and thrive, and that the UK economy is growing productively and sustainably.
The proposed medium-term priorities are:
- Focus action on the core areas of consumer spending and time;
- Protect people from harmful practices;
- Deter anti-competitive behaviour;
- Enable open access to markets for innovating businesses;
- Help emergent sectors to develop into high growth, innovative and competitive markets;
- Help accelerate the UK's transition to a net zero economy;
- Prioritise sectors that offer the biggest potential for impact on innovation and productivity; and
- Promote resilience through competition.
These priorities will principally inform the activities where the CMA has a degree of discretion over the work it undertakes, such as competition and consumer law enforcement, market studies and investigations, and advocacy work.
The shorter term areas of focus for 2023 to 2024 are:
- Act in areas of essential spending and where people are under particular financial pressure;
- Address pressure selling and false or misleading pricing practices;
- Deter anti-competitive behaviour in areas which have direct effects on public and household expenditure;
- Enable innovating businesses to access digital markets;
- Encourage effective competition in emergent markets;
- Act in existing and emergent markets for sustainable products and services;
- Identify and act in areas where the CMA can have the most positive impact;
- Ensure digital markets are competitive;
- Identify economic risks the CMA is well-placed to address; and
- Further develop the work of the Office for the Internal Market (OIM) and establish the work of the Subsidy Advice Unit (SAU).
The CMA identifies a number of sectors which are of particular importance in achieving its ambitions. Whilst emphasising its goal of promoting innovation and effective market access across both established and emergent markets, the draft Annual Plan also states that the CMA will prioritise action in sectors which may have a particularly positive impact on innovation and productivity. These may be markets at an early stage of development but with the potential for significant growth, or markets that appear to have significant productivity gaps and where competition is limited.
Key amongst these are digital markets: the CMA has completed a market study into mobile ecosystems and opened a market investigation in respect of the supply of mobile browsers and browser engines over the course of the past year, and intends to continue this work with its investigation into suspected anti-competitive conduct by Google in ad-tech, and wider work in enabling innovative businesses to access digital markets.
There is also a significant emphasis on promoting sustainability and supporting an effective transition to net zero, including via advising the Government on how competition and consumer laws can help meet the UK’s environmental goals and addressing greenwashing.
The stated priorities and the particular emphasis on digital markets and sustainability are unsurprising, given that these were also areas of focus in 2022. However, it will be interesting to see what the finalised Annual Plan puts forward, and what particular steps are taken over the upcoming year, in order to deal with the pressing challenges presented by the rapidly evolving digital markets sector.
The central challenge will be ensuring innovation and effective competition in the face of unprecedented concentration of power amongst a small number of digital firms.
The CMA are inviting individuals and organisations to submit their comments via a form on the consultation page or by email to email@example.com.
The consultation is open from 15 December 2022 to 30 January 2023, with the CMA planning to publish a summary of responses, along with a final version of the Annual Plan, by the end of March 2023.