"What business does however need to know to promote growth is that there are clear, consistent rules to govern business behaviour. Which brings me on to competition policy. Competition is one of the great drivers of growth, keeping prices low for consumers, driving innovation, experimentation and investment.
When I used my party conference speech to suggest the need for a more active competition policy, this was interpreted as some kind of modern Marxism. Far from it – this is a defence of capitalism, not an assault.
And the UK’s competition regime is regarded as one of the best in the world – particularly because of its independence and the transparency of decision making. And the EU regime on top of it – including the system of state aid rules that helps to prevent subsidy wars - is one of the Community’s most successful activities.
But there is scope for improvement. In particular, there are difficulties in successfully prosecuting anti-trust cases and a paucity of market investigation cases. I would also like to question whether our current system of sector-specific regulation is ideal, or could we achieve something better through cross sector regulation.
A system that is too slow imposes unacceptable costs on the regulated, and is an insufficient deterrent for would-be abusers of a dominant position. Competition Act cases have taken on average three and a half years between the investigation to a final decision. This is too slow – hardly the “efficient and timely processes” that the CBI has called for.
I also want to ask if we are making enough investigations. Our rate of three or four a year looks odd compared to 15 in France and even more in Germany.
In the New Year, the Government will consult on proposals to deliver more streamlined and consistent processes - including bringing the Competition Commission and the competition functions of the Office of Fair Trading together to form a single competition authority, which I hope will be more proactive in addressing problems."