OFT to act more speedilyOFT criticized for being too slow to act

17 November 2005

Britain's competition watchdog is too slow in cracking down on rip-off businesses according to a new report.

It found that almost one in six of the Office of Fair Trading's(OFT) on-going investigations had taken longer than three years.

The National Audit Office (NAO) report says these investigations need to be quicker, more transparent, and more consistent in quality.

It says the watchdog also needs to improve the way it informs businesses about competition law. This follows an OFT survey which found nearly 40 per cent of businesses rated their knowledge of competition legislation as zero.

Sir John Bourn, head of the NAO, said: 'At present, many of the OFT's investigations take a long time. The recent changes in leadership at the OFT present it with an opportunity to meet these challenges head on and to enhance the OFT's reputation as an effective competition enforcement body.'

'Too slow and too cautious'

The NAO report also praised the OFT for being one of the best competition watchdogs in the world and for its successful actions against consumer rip offs. This included an investigation into the cost of replica England football shirts which dropped from GBP 40 to GBP 25 following an OFT probe.

The OFT said: 'We welcome the NAO Report on our competition enforcement work.

'It is a valuable contribution appraising and refocusing our work after several years of experience of the new competition legislation.'

But MP Edward Leigh, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, accused the OFT of being 'too slow and too cautious'.

He said: 'Although the OFT has had some notable successes, its investigations are small in number and long in length.

'The enquiry into independent schools has been going on for two-and-a-half years and a final report still looks some years off. The OFT must do more to stop its cases from dragging on in this way.'