The OFT is responsible for delivering its contribution to promoting fair competitive markets in the UK. We are accountable for the delivery of our objectives to Parliament via the presenation of our Annual Report pursuant to section 4 of the Enterprise Act 2002. Under Section 5 of the Government Resources and Accounts Act 2000 the OFT is required to prepare resource accounts for each financial year, which are audited by the National Audit Office.
Ultimately the work of OFT is accountable to the public through Parliamentary scrutiny both in Westminster and the devolved administrations, eg through investigations by select committees. OFT's decisions under competition law, including those made under the CA98 and decisions on CC references of mergers or markets, are subject to appeal to the specialist Competition Appeal Tribunal, an independent body established under the Enterprise Act.
The OFT's licensing decisions under the Consumer Credit Act are subject to appeal heard by an independent panel. Where the OFT enforces consumer protection law, through the courts, its actions can be appealed there.
Our mission is to make markets work well for consumers. Our goal is for competitive, efficient, innovative markets where standards of consumer care are high, consumers have choice, they are empowered and confident about making choices, and where businesses comply with consumer and competition laws but are not disproportionately burdened by government regulations, or restricted and harmed by market abuse.
The tools to achieve this goal are found within the consumer and competition law regimes that lie at the heart of UK economic policy. These tools enable us to look at all aspects of markets to ensure that they are working well for consumers. We use the competition regime to ensure that consumers benefit from competitive and innovative markets which are not constrained, for instance by price fixing, by market sharing and other anti-competitive behaviour, by unnecessary or inappropriate regulations or by anti-competitive mergers. We use the consumer law regime to ensure that consumers are able to make informed and rational selections of products and services and that their choices are unimpeded by artificial constraints such as deceptive practices, misleading advertising, unfair contract terms or the withholding of material information.
Our view is that it is more effective to look at the demand and supply sides of markets together. The competition and consumer regimes are complementary to each other. Empowered and well-informed consumers act as a positive stimulus to competition between businesses. Where consumers are able to make informed decisions, businesses are more likely to innovate, reduce inefficiencies in production and supply and compete in ways which make markets work well for consumers and the wider economy.
We aim to take a market-informed approach, focusing on outcomes which support productivity growth and business vibrancy and improve consumer welfare. We believe that this approach is in the best interests of businesses, consumers, the UK economy and society. We have a wide range of tools at our disposal, from self-regulation in the form of OFT approved Codes of Practice and business education to merger control and the direct enforcement of consumer and competition legislation, including the criminal cartel offence.
Our methods include prosecution, market studies, consultation and workshops, advocacy to help to formulate government policy and to address new or developing competition and consumer issues, and educating businesses and consumers. Beyond the immediate goal of stopping a particular bad practice or promoting a beneficial one, our activities improve the institutions and processes through which competition and consumer policies are formulated and applied.
Acting to prevent harm in the first place is better for consumers than taking enforcement action afterwards. One of the ways to achieve this is to equip parties with the necessary knowledge and ability to protect themselves against unlawful practice. We undertake powerful awareness and education programmes and co-ordinate an alliance of consumer education partners. Our aim is to increase consumer and business knowledge and to deal rapidly with complaints from all parties who are affected by illegal activity and market failure. Prevention is not solely up to individuals or the government, however, and business representatives and industry organisations can and do play an important role. Government intervention should be the last, not the first, resort, and we ask industry to 'Do the Right Thing' and police itself by raising compliance levels and by stopping unlawful, unfair and deceptive practices.
As part of the annual business planning process, the Board reviews strategic priorities and sets objectives and specific deliverables for the coming year, having first consulted publicly with stakeholders. The objectives and deliverables are set out in the OFT's Annual Plan.
The Board reviews progress against objectives and deliverables, and financial performance on a quarterly basis. Progress is reviewed each year in our Annual Report and Accounts.
The OFT's approach to risk management is based on assessing risks that might impact adversely on our goal of making markets work well for consumers, and acting on opportunities to advance that goal.
The Board will keep under review key corporate risks, identify opportunities and assess the adequacy of risk management controls. The Board will ensure that responsibility for risk management is appropriately handled throughout OFT, with managers and individual members of staff taking responsibility for managing those specific risks which could affect the achievement of their objectives and targets, and for identifying opportunities which would enhance those objectives and targets.
We aim to make the OFT an employer of choice, by providing a strong framework of training and career management in order to be able to attract, develop and retain highly skilled and motivated people. We are committed to being an organisation where all employees feel respected and where diversity is appreciated. Posts at OFT are normally recruited through open competition.
1. The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform has a public service agreement target for 2005-08 to promote fair competitive markets by ensuring that the UK framework for competition and for consumer empowerment and support is at the level of the best by 2008, measuring the effectiveness of the regime through international comparisons, supported by a broader evidence base.
2. Further information on our commitment to diversity may be found in our race equality scheme (pdf 541 kb)
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