Specialist unit of competition regulator builds staff numbers with legislation to provide it with powers slated for introduction before April 2024
Credit: Vishnu Vijayan/Pixabay
The specialist regulatory unit created to tackle anti-competitive practices among huge tech firms now has 70 staff on its books – although, almost two years on from its creation, may not be granted any powers for another two years.
The Digital Markets Unit sits within the Competition and Markets Authority. It was created in November 2020 and first unveiled in spring 2021 and, since then, has steadily grown its headcount. At the start of 2022, the CMA trailed the recruitment of seven senior roles – including a director for the unit.
By the spring, headcount was understood to stand at around 60 and, according to Paul Scully, the minister for tech and the digital economy, this has since grown further still. The DMU now accounts for around 7% of the competition watchdog’s overall employee roster, he added, in response to a parliamentary question from Labour’s shadow digital secretary Lucy Powell.
“The Competition and Markets Authority currently has around 70 employees working in the Digital Markets Unit,” the minister said. “The CMA currently has a total headcount of 960 individuals across all roles and functions.”
Confirmation of the DMU’s headcount comes shortly after the government finally confirmed an – approximate – timeline for introducing the legislation needed to give the unit the necessary powers to fulfil its remit.
In last week’s autumn statement, chancellor Jeremy Hunt revealed that the new Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill will be put before parliament sometime during the year-long parliamentary session due to commence in May 2023.
The statement said that the law will empower the digital market’s unit to clamp down on anti-competitive practices in the digital sector, and “make changes to the competition framework that will include streamlined decision making and updating merger and fine thresholds”.
The DMU will also be empowered to fulfil a remit to “protect consumers in fast-moving markets by tackling ‘subscription traps’ and fake reviews online”.
According to an online update published shortly afterwards by Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy: “The [bill will]… reform the UK’s digital markets, competition and consumer laws, strengthening public and business confidence in the power of free markets, and provide new powers to the Digital Markets Unit. In doing this, consumers’ hard-earned cash will be further protected from scams and rip-offs, markets will become more competitive and dynamic, meaning consumers get the very best deals, and a new regime will be introduced to address the far-reaching market power a small number of very powerful tech firms have on the market.”