The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has been blasted by MPs for not using its powers effectively and being a ‘meek organisation’.
The accusations came at a House of Commons Public Accounts Committee session when the OFT’s senior officials were also told they:
- took too long to investigate cases
- reached too few decisions on anti-competitive behaviour
- had met none of the original target dates on any of their cases
MPs convened the session after criticisms were made about the organisation, which protects and promotes consumer interests in the UK, in a National Audit Office report.
OFT officials accepted that its investigations were slow, but said that the targets were not realistic – it was now committed to speeding up cases to 18 months.
Following the Commons hearing OFT spokesman Mark Kram told Which?: ‘We don’t agree we’re meek. We’ve taken on big cases such as replica football kits and toys. In 2003, we fined Argos for price-fixing certain games, such as Monopoly. Argos paid the fine, reduced on appeal in 2005, of GBP 15 million. The price of Monopoly then fell from GBP 17.99 to GBP 13.49.
‘As an authority, our peers rate us third in the world, after the American and European systems. We’ve had our competition powers only since March 2000, whereas the Europeans and Americans have had them for decades. Since 2000, we’ve saved consumers GBP 110 million, using Competition Act powers, and GBP 750 million through all our competition work.’