Competition lawyers split over OFT shake-up
Government proposals to limit director general's powers gets mixed response
Government plans to reduce the powers of the director general of fair trading by introducing a board of legal and industry experts, has met with a mixed response from competition specialists.Stephen Byers, secretary of state for trade and industry, announced last week that reform proposals for the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), including bringing in a team of experts to help the director general (DG) deal with the number of cases resulting from this year’s Competition Act. The proposals would also bring the OFT in line with European competition authorities, which tend to have a more corporate structure. Chris Swift, DLA competition partner and former OFT lawyer, told Legal Week that his firm strongly opposes the proposals.“We do not think the proposed structure will contribute in any way to the need for rapid and effective implementation of what the Government asserts should be vigorous competition policy,” he said. “A board structure is likely to make the procedures slower.” Swift added: “If there are to be external members, they should reflect, as far as possible, the skills required for making competition decisions: expertise in the legal and economic issues involved. “The danger in appointing members with a broad range of experience is that the board will resemble the reporting side of the Competition Commission: an industrial jury rather than an executive authority.” But Linklaters competition partner Gavin Robert said there were benefits to the reforms. “Having a board structure would take the personalities out of competition,” he said. “The most important parallel is Ofgem,” he added. “Where they are creating an authority for the energy markets rather than a director general. The reason is to get rid of the personality cult.”A DTI spokeswoman emphasised: “The plan is that the board operates on a strategic level, acting as a management team, rather than intervening in every case.”
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