Ex-OFT chief Maxwell shortlisted to run competition watchdog

Mark Kleinman, City Editor

The former head of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has made it on to a shortlist to become Britain's next competition supremo.

Sky News has learnt that Clive Maxwell, who is now a senior official at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), is among a handful of remaining candidates to run the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

Whitehall sources said that Mr Maxwell was competing with Andrea Coscelli, the CMA's acting chief executive since last summer, and at least two other contenders for the job.

"Coscelli and Maxwell are the two frontrunners," one official said.

The job of running the UK's competition watchdog is a crucial one, and will wield even greater power after Britain's departure from the European Union.

Brussels currently exerts huge influence over some UK mergers - including last year's decision to block the merger of Three and O2, the mobile phone networks - but Brexit will herald a transfer of greater autonomy to UK regulators.

Among the takeovers expected to face close CMA scrutiny is Tesco's proposed £3.7bn acquisition of Booker, the wholesaler, which rivals are expected to argue will hamper competition in the UK grocery sector.

The CMA has demonstrated a much tougher approach to enforcement activities in recent months, handing out substantial fines for competition infringements, particularly in the pharmaceuticals industry.

It has also been examining sectors such as price comparison websites and online gambling.

The watchdog is facing a blow over its two-year inquiry into the retail energy market, with ministers expected to outline much more draconian measures to curb price increases than those proposed by the CMA.

The top CMA post was left vacant last year by Alex Chisholm's resignation to become the permanent secretary at the Department for Energy and Climate Change.

He has since taken on the same role at BEIS.

If Mr Maxwell does get the nod, it would mark a surprise return to the helm of the UK's competition infrastructure.

He ran the OFT prior to its merger with the Competition Commission to form the CMA in 2014.

Sources said that the candidates for the CMA job were interviewed last week.

A selection panel is expected to make a recommendation to Greg Clark, the Business Secretary, in the next few weeks, although some Whitehall insiders also expect Theresa May to sign off the final appointment.

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