The new Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, gave his first Budget Statement yesterday. The Budget specifically recognises that "competition is essential to drive innovation, produce better outcomes for consumers and allow new entrants to the market to grow".
Most importantly for competition law, the Budget contained an announcement that the government will accept all six recommendations of the Furman Review (published in March 2019) for unlocking competition in digital markets, and will consult on them.
The first of the six recommendations is that the government should establish and resource a pro-competition digital markets unit, tasked with securing competition, innovation, and beneficial outcomes for consumers and businesses. Other recommendations include: more frequent action by the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to challenge technology acquisitions, an update of the CMA's antitrust enforcement tools, the monitoring of algorithms and artificial intelligence against anticompetitive activity, conducting a market study into digital advertising (currently ongoing) and encouraging closer cooperation between the CMA and foreign competition authorities
In an announcement accompanying the Budget, the government has said that it will now proceed to set up the Digital Markets Taskforce, to be housed within the CMA. The taskforce will also comprise officials from Ofcom and the Information Commissioner's Office.
This new cross-regulator taskforce has a remit to "consider the practical application of the potential pro-competitive measures" set out by the Furman report, including advising the government on implementing a pro-competitive code of conduct for digital platforms with strategic market power. Importantly for businesses in the digital sector, the government has been careful to state that it recognises that timely intervention in digital markets is needed but "future interventions must strike the right balance between promoting competition and innovation on the one hand and avoiding disproportionate burdens on business on the other hand." The taskforce is required to report to the government within six months.
It remains to be seen what the outcomes of the Digital Markets Taskforce report will be, but it is clear that the government will be aggressively pursuing its digital markets strategy during 2020.
To empower consumers and boost competition, the government will accept all six of the Furman Review’s strategic recommendations for unlocking competition in digital markets.