The year-long search for a new boss of the UK’s competition regulator is close to concluding with a decision to appoint its acting chief to the role on a permanent basis.
Sky News has learnt from sources in Whitehall that Greg Clark, the Business Secretary, has been told that Andrea Coscelli has emerged as a selection panel’s preferred candidate to run the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is expected to announce the CMA’s new chief executive next month, and sources said Mr Coscelli now appeared to be “the odds-on favourite” to get the job.
“It would be astonishing if he didn’t get it given the panel’s recommendation,” an insider said on Friday.
Mr Coscelli, whose previous roles included running the CMA’s markets and mergers division, is understood to have been up against rival candidates including Clive Maxwell, the former head of the Office of Fair Trading and now a senior official at BEIS.
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 facing 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.
On Friday, it announced it was launching enforcement action against several online gambling operators suspected of infringing consumer law.
The CMA has also been confronted by challenges to its authority, notably through Theresa May’s pre-election pledge for a price cap on energy companies.
The policy was absent from this week’s Queen’s Speech, delivering an element of redemption to the CMA, which had argued against such a move in its two-year inquiry into the sector.
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 – which was abolished last year.
He has since taken on the same role at BEIS.
The appointment of a new CMA chief will help to overturn perceptions of a logjam in key appointments in Whitehall, with many officials privately arguing that the Prime Minister has tried to exert too? tight a grip on an array of bodies.
A BEIS spokeswoman declined to comment on Friday, while the CMA could not be reached.