The OFT’s powers under competition and consumer law not only allow us to tackle anti-competitive behaviour by companies but also to address public restrictions on competition. They also place a responsibility on us to provide information and advice to government on competition and consumer issues.
Public markets work is one of the OFT's five key cross-cutting priorities identified in the 2013/14 Annual Plan.
The delivery of public services is changing.
The OFT refers to services where the government is the primary funder of the service but a range of different organisations are involved in providing the service as a 'public market'.
Through its public markets work, the OFT aims to work constructively with other government departments and public bodies to help them frame and deliver services that work well for citizens and taxpayers. It also provides wider advice on the many ways that government affects markets as a provider or procurer of services; through tax and subsidies; and through regulation.
Our work addresses how competition works across the public sector as a whole, but we will also look at individual public markets.
The OFT uses a range of tools in its work on public markets:
We publish briefings, policy notes and research on a range of issues which affect public markets in order to influence central and local government policy and practice. We also engage with people who work in public markets to increase their understanding of how to increase value, choice and quality for end users and taxpayers, and to increase our understanding of how different public market sectors operate. In addition, where possible we publish our responses to relevant consultations run by other organisations.
The OFT actively investigates public markets that do not appear to be meeting the needs of consumers and publishes the results. Market studies involve an analysis of a particular market, or practices across a range of goods and services, with the aim of identifying and addressing any aspects of market failure from competition issues to consumer detriment and the effect of government regulations.
Competition Enforcement (Competition Act 1998)
Effective competition between businesses delivers open, dynamic markets and drives productivity, innovation and value for consumers. The objective of competition law is to help businesses provide these benefits by deterring them from engaging in anti-competitive agreements or conduct. Under our competition powers, we consider the effect that anti-competitive practices or behaviour may have on the overall process of competition in markets, including competition in public markets.
Consumer Protection Enforcement (Part 8, Enterprise Act 2002; Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008; and Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999)
The OFT uses its consumer enforcement powers where breaches of consumer protection law point to systemic failures in a market. This complements the role that local authority Trading Standards Services have in the enforcement of consumer protection law at national level. The OFT has a lead role for the enforcement of the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 although the Trading Standards Services has equal enforcement powers. Consumer protection legislation may apply in a public market in terms of a public service provider's direct dealings with end users. For example, if a provider: makes false or misleading claims/omissions; engages in aggressive sales tactics; engages in any of the practices banned under the CPRs; or provides services which fall below standards of professional diligence.
Our work on public markets is organised around four main themes; see the work areas below to find out more.