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The Antitrust Source

The Antitrust Source | June 2024

Interview of Sarah Cardell, Chief Executive of the United Kingdom Competition and Markets Authority

William E. Kovacic and Sarah Cardell


  • Sarah Cardell was appointed Chief Executive of the United Kingdom Competition and Markets Authority in December 2022, having served as interim Chief Executive since July 2022. She is a member of the CMA’s Board and leads the CMA’s Senior Executive Team.
  • Previously, she had served as the CMA’s General Counsel since September 2013, with responsibility for leading the CMA’s Legal Service and Policy & International directorates as well as the CMA’s Digital Market Unit.
  • She joined the CMA from Ofgem (the UK regulator for electricity and gas markets) where she was the Legal Partner of the Markets Division, leading on competition law matters.
  • She was previously a partner in the competition group at Slaughter and May in London, advising across a wide range of EU and UK merger and antitrust cases. 
Interview of Sarah Cardell, Chief Executive  of the United Kingdom Competition and Markets Authority
IakovKalinin via Getty Images

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Sarah Cardell was interviewed for the Antitrust Source by Bill Kovacic on May 8, 2024.

Antitrust Source: Sarah, thank you very much for joining us today. I wonder if we could start with a little bit about your own road. Can you tell us about what brought you to the CMA? 

Sarah Cardell: I might go back to the very beginning actually. I studied politics, philosophy, and economics as my undergrad degree, and as part of that did industrial economics. My tutor at university was an economics consultant who was working in the competition space at the time, so that was my first introduction into the competition/antitrust world. 

I remember having a conversation with him toward the end of my time at university, and he suggested I might think about going into the antitrust space as a lawyer. In the United Kingdom a lot of people convert to law as a second degree, so I did a law conversion; and then got a training contract at Slaughter and May and had the opportunity as my first trainee seat in the competition group. It was very clear from that point on that was the route that I wanted to follow as a lawyer.

When I was at Slaughter and May, I also had the opportunity to do a secondment at the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), as it was at the time. In fact, that was actually the first time I met Bill Kovacic because he was giving a fascinating speech about the combination of competition and consumer protection, which obviously is still a very relevant theme for us at the CMA. I really enjoyed my time on secondment at the OFT. It was an interesting insight for me into being on that side of the fence and considering the policy and enforcement perspective. 

I thought quite long and hard about staying at the OFT after my secondment, but I decided to go back into private practice, and I made partner there, which was fantastic, and I absolutely loved that experience. But I always had a bit of a hankering after being on the enforcement agency side of the fence, so when the opportunity came up to be General Counsel at the CMA, which was being established in 2013, it was a great opportunity to be at the start of a new organization, to help shape and build that organization, and to continue my journey as an antitrust lawyer but from the other side of the fence as the General Counsel for the CMA. 

Antitrust Source: How did the experience at Slaughter and May affect the way you approach your job at the CMA? 

Sarah Cardell: It is a great question. Even now, as Chief Executive, obviously it gave me a very rigorous grounding in my experience as a lawyer, but also my experience working with many different businesses. As everybody does in private practice, you are working hand in hand with your corporate clients. I loved the opportunity to sit down with those clients and get under the skin of the business and the markets that they operated in, and to really understand their perspective and thinking about the issues that we were looking at, whether that was a merger or an enforcement case, and I think I really carried that through to my roles in the CMA. 

That desire to connect to, and understand, the business perspective has been one of my real priorities as Chief Executive in making sure we are continuing that engagement, that we understand the business perspective, and also ensuring that the businesses that are affected by our work and have an interest in our work also understand the CMA ’s perspective and what we are seeking to achieve. 

Antitrust Source: You had already been on the enforcement side before at the OFT, but then when you came back from private practice to the CMA, what was the transition like? What was it like to move into the management role? 

Sarah Cardell: I had also had an interesting little diversion for about eighteen months or so heading up the legal team at the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem), which is our gas and electricity regulator. Though it was not competition law principally, it was a very good experience for me in understanding the regulator’s perspective—which was experience I had not had directly before. 

When I came into the General Counsel role at the CMA, I was able to bring the deep legal expertise that I had from my time at Slaughter and May, a good understanding of that external environment and that business perspective, but also important experience I gained at Ofgem from the regulator’s side of things, and bring that all into the CMA General Counsel role.  

For me, the real attraction at that point in time was being part of a new leadership team. We were setting up the CMA from scratch. It involved a merger between the OFT and the Competition Commission, the two previous antitrust/competition agencies within the United Kingdom. But we were also bringing in new people with a different mandate. 

It was also a great leadership opportunity; now that I reflect on why I enjoy the CEO role so much, it is the sharp edge of leading the substantive work that we do, the enforcement work that we do, the mergers, etc., but I also really relish and enjoy the opportunity to lead a fantastic organization. 

We have 900 or so brilliant staff who work here at the CMA. It is an inspiring place to work. The caliber of the people who work here is phenomenal, and the opportunity to lead and continue to shape the organization in what is still as dynamic a space as it was ten years ago. We are in many ways almost setting up a new organization all over again in the sense that we are both looking to change some of the ways that we operate but also taking on new powers and new responsibilities.  

For me, it is the twin track of having the opportunity to continue to engage substantively in the most cutting-edge antitrust/competition issues but also the opportunity to lead a phenomenal organization. 

Antitrust Source: Were there any surprises when you became the CEO, anything you had not expected to encounter? 

Sarah Cardell: I don’t think it came as a surprise, but I think definitely the realization of the extensive change in the landscape, our external operating environment—we were already coming through a period where we were seeing the impact of Brexit, the change it brought about in terms of the complexity of the role that we were taking on, particularly in relation to merger control; and combining that with the pace of change that we are seeing in digital markets and the issues coming through in the United Kingdom, which culminated in legislation which is still going through Parliament at the moment to introduce a new Digital Markets Competition and Consumers Bill, giving us new powers both in relation to digital markets and importantly also in relation to consumer protection. 

So, leading the organization through this period of quite intense change, recognizing that the profile that the CMA has externally is very different from the profile a few years ago, particularly internationally, I don’t think was a surprise, but I think it has been a very central focus for me over the last eighteen months.

Antitrust Source: Sarah, please talk a bit about what the transition was like from the days of the OFT and the Competition Commission to the creation of the new agency, the CMA. 

Sarah Cardell: I remember at the time thinking to myself as a competition lawyer, as I was saying earlier, having mostly been in private practice for many, many years, you spend a lot of your time working on and advising on mergers. And then I found myself in the middle of doing the integrative exercise. So we had the two historic institutions, the OFT and the Competition Commission, both with very good, very strong, reputations, but previously both custodians of different parts of the UK competition regime, and it was a big exercise in pulling that together. All credit to Alex Chisholm, who was the CEO at the time, who led and shaped that vision.  

As a senior executive team, which I was part of as General Counsel, it was an exciting time because we had the opportunity to build a new institution from scratch, to think about how to combine the best of both of the historic institutions, but also bring in a lot of new talent as well. 

In the early years there was a sense of transition and a sense of integration. Actually, I think that stabilized very quickly and we quickly got to thinking of ourselves as a single organization, the CMA, and not the sort of legacy institutions that we had been part of. 

But I think we also found quite rapidly that we moved into further periods of change. I am not sure that we ever quite hit steady-state in those early years. We went from a process of integration and building out the CMA to quite quickly entering into a period focused on the prospect of Brexit, what that would look like and what that would mean for the CMA; and transformation on a different scale from the original establishment of the agency, where we were looking at potentially taking on substantial new powers and responsibilities as a consequence of Brexit. Obviously, it took time through that process to understand what the full impact of that would be. 

As we were going through that journey, then we hit the impact of the pandemic. So we were continuing through this transition of ongoing change, and I think that has continued through the full ten-year life cycle of the CMA so far.  

I think we have come through Brexit a really strong institution where we have taken on the new responsibilities, particularly in relation to mergers; but also more broadly in relation to competition enforcement, where we have a responsibility now to act on behalf of UK consumers and UK businesses in cases where some aspects of that work previously would have been carried out by the European Commission. 

I think we have also continued to play a really important role internationally coming through that period. International work, as you know, was always very much part of the CMA’s priority and focus from the get-go, but I think that became increasingly important in a post-Brexit world.  

We continued the integration of our competition and consumer protection mandates, and that is now a very integrated way of operating. 

Then, as we were coming through from that period of adjusting to post-Brexit and experiencing the pandemic, we simultaneously had a Furman review of our powers to address competition issues in digital markets and at the same time the question of whether our consumer protection powers were sufficient to take on the challenges that we were seeing that needed to be addressed.  

That ultimately culminated in the Digital Markets Competition and Consumers Bill, which, as I mentioned, is currently going through the UK Parliament. This will give us important new powers in relation to promoting competition in digital markets but also enhanced powers in relation to consumer protection.  

That continues our journey of change and transformation, and when I look at it ten years on, in many ways we are continuing to build a new organization, an organization that is fit for purpose for the next ten years of the work that we are doing. It has been an incredibly exciting journey for me to be part of right from the very beginning and obviously latterly as Chief Executive, and I think that theme of change and growth will continue to be a central one for us. 

Antitrust Source: I am struck at the remarkable adaptability that the institution and its people showed during that time. You had, as you mentioned, two very successful institutions with a great record of accomplishment going through a merger, which is by no means easy, and carrying out the process of the integration, and at the same time the work did not stop. I cannot recall seeing a group of civil servants more dedicated to doing their full-time job but at the same time preparing this new institution and building it. It was a remarkably successful transition, I thought, and it had to have been exciting to have been part of that and to be part of the team that carried that out. 

Sarah Cardell: It was, but you are absolutely right. I think that philosophy of “the work doesn’t stop” was actually a very central philosophy for the CMA throughout all of those periods. It was absolutely central when we were setting up, establishing, and getting going with the CMA; equally essential through all the uncertainties of Brexit; equally essential throughout the uncertainties of the pandemic, that we adapted and adjusted the way we were working and we had to re-prioritize and de-prioritize in certain areas. 

But that principal focus on, “We continue to deliver, we continue to focus on what really matters,” and driving those outcomes and those projects I think is an unchanging central focus throughout all those periods of change and evolution. 

Antitrust Source: Perhaps in an era marked by so much dynamism in commerce and so many continuing changes in the larger geopolitical environment, maybe that ingredient of resilience, adaptability, and openness to adjustments serves the institution very well going ahead in a world that features so much ongoing change and just a bit of uncertainty. 

Sarah Cardell: Yes, and I think that is something that both Marcus Bokkerink (the CMA Chair) and I recognised when we were appointed to our current roles. Marcus started as our current Chair back in mid-2022, about the same time as I came in as interim CEO, and I think the two of us coming into those roles together recognized this continuing, and significantly changing, external landscape with a degree of uncertainty, as you say, the prospect of new powers, and recognized both that need for resilience and also the importance of that adaptability.  

We took the opportunity then to reset our strategy, to set a clarity of vision around our purpose, our ambition, and our strategic priorities over a three-year timeframe, which in the context of so much change has been very important, but then having quite an agile model within that.  

I have encouraged us to move away from thinking in a very silo-ed way—“What should our next competition enforcement case be? What should our next consumer protection case be? What should our next market study be?”—to think about the priorities and the issues that we really want to focus on and then how do we best address them. That has made us a more agile institution, which I think we need to be. 

Antitrust Source: If we can look back over this decade —if you look at the body of work going back to the launch in 2014, what do you identify as being some of the most important trends in the substantive programs of the new institution?  

Perhaps we can begin with the topic of merger control. How has the landscape changed? What do you see to have been the main adjustments in terms perhaps of the substantive program doctrine over time? What has the CMA learned during that time, and how is it changing the program? 

Sarah Cardell: One of the areas of change naturally for us has been the change in the profile of the cases, particularly post-Brexit, because, by definition, pre-Brexit we would typically be getting more of the UK-focused transactions with a direct UK impact. Post-Brexit, we are still very much looking at that direct UK impact, but we are also doing that in the context of large global deals, where it is our responsibility to look at the UK aspect. That is one kind of profile change that we have seen. 

Another major change that we have seen obviously is the greater prevalence of transactions in the digital market space and more dynamic markets. We saw that coming through the latter end of the 2010s I would say, and there is a recognized trend across competition agencies globally having a greater awareness through that decade of transactions in this space. 

I think, not just in relation to digital markets but in that wider context of dynamic markets, understanding how to look at potential competition concerns through the merger control lens, when we are looking at those sorts of deals, when we are potentially looking at deals involving more nascent technologies or nascent sectors, identifying theories of harm around the impact of a merger on innovation, for example, and how best to frame and articulate that is important. We saw that from a CMA perspective, culminate in our revised Merger Assessment Guidelines, which we put out back in 2021, which was very much building on our experience through the cases in previous years when we were looking at dynamic theories of harm and the impact of mergers on competition and innovation. 

We were also looking at how we deal with uncertainty in those dynamic and digital markets. There is an inherent element of uncertainty in that forward-looking competition assessment in merger control, and it is important to properly take that into account without that resulting in an excess of caution in terms of intervention.  

I think, in that sort of landscape, we were also considering  ‘what should the range of evidence be, that we take account of when we are carrying out that merger control?’ I think updating the Merger Assessment Guidelines in 2021 was quite a pivotal moment for us in capturing that thinking which had evolved. It was not a moment-in-time change, but it had evolved over the latter part of that decade.  

Similarly, our thinking in relation to remedies evolved through that decade recognizing, in particular, when we were looking at structural versus behavioral remedies, that there was a place for behavioral remedies, but there was a high bar for those remedies for good reasons.

Antitrust Source: During that period of time, is it fair to say you felt that there was a sense that perhaps a stronger program of intervention in general terms was warranted, that in a number of scenarios perhaps the view toward transactions should be somewhat more skeptical and somewhat more inclined to give effect to theories of harm than maybe had been the case at the very beginning of the decade? 

Sarah Cardell: I don’t think there was a generalized sense of that. There were many standard horizontal mergers where the framework assessment was absolutely consistent over time.  

What we did see—again I don’t think this was unique to the United Kingdom—was a sense that there had been a degree of under-enforcement, particularly in relation to mergers in digital markets. We saw that in the United Kingdom. We had the report by Jason Furman, who through that review identified that underenforcement; we also saw that in a study that we had commissioned from the Lear consultancy; and we saw that in other reflections at a global level too. That was certainly something that was collectively in our minds.  

It was not then about suddenly pivoting, but it was about making sure that we had the right analytical toolkit, that we were looking at these mergers and these markets in ways that made sure we were capturing the dynamics of competition in how we were assessing the potential impact of mergers, and that we were not too static in our frame of reference. It was about making sure that our analytical framework was moving in lockstep with the nature of the markets that we were assessing and also making sure that we were calibrating for uncertainty in the right way, hitting the right balance between making sure that we were not blocking benign deals, but at the same time we were capturing those deals which were likely to be problematic. 

Antitrust Source: Can you say a bit about how the development of the markets regime and the application of the markets regime has helped inform the CMA’s judgment about the appropriate direction of policy, especially in areas such as digital? How important has the markets regime been to the formulation of policy? 

Sarah Cardell: The markets regime is a really interesting tool for us in the United Kingdom. It is very wide-ranging in terms of the different types of issues that we have looked at. You will remember this, but obviously early on in the CMA’s lifetime, we had two big market investigations looking at energy and retail banking. 

The retail banking market investigation is an interesting example, where one of the key remedies which has proven to be so successful, was the introduction of open banking and the opening up of the retail banking system in the United Kingdom. I don’t think anybody, when we were designing that remedy, had the full sense of what we were about to potentially deliver, but that has been a huge success story. 

It is relevant when we think about digital markets now because it shows how you can have a remedy which genuinely opens up the marketplace and enables hundreds, thousands even, of innovators to come into the market and genuinely take up the opportunity for open and vibrantcompetition. That does not mean you are necessarily upending incumbent positions, but you are creating an opportunity for vibrant competition which is not just baking in incumbency positions. It is a very interesting example when we look ahead to thinking about the new digital markets regime and the kinds of conditions for competition that we might want to encourage. 

We have also done a lot in the market space that has been much more focused on markets where there are real consumer vulnerabilities. We had market studies looking at care homes and children’s social care, for example. We had a market study recently looking at house building in the United Kingdom. I think these examples show the versatility of the markets regime and its potential to help to inform wider policy thinking. 

Of course, we have had some big set-piece market studies squarely in the digital market space, particularly originally in our digital advertising market study and then more recently in the mobile ecosystems market study. Both of those I would like to think really showcase the very best of the CMA because we took the opportunity to really understand these markets—a twelve-month market study takes a significant amount of internal expertise and capability, not just on the legal and economics side, but also increasingly building up our digital, data, and technology capability internally that was contributing to that work.  

We really took the time to get under the skin of how those markets work, and that I think is so important. I often hear that played back to me from the companies active in these markets. They may not agree with every single one of our conclusions in those pieces of work, but what they do endorse is the quality and the thoroughness of our review and our understanding of the market dynamics. 

That gave us an important platform, building on the review by Jason Furman as well, to be able to identify the extent of potential competition concerns across a number of these absolutely critical digital markets and perhaps some of the limitations of our existing toolkit in terms of evidencing why something different was needed, for a regime that was targeted at promoting, supporting, and developing a thriving competitive marketplace across those digital markets.  

Then, off the back of the mobile ecosystems market study, more recently, we have had a market investigation in relation to mobile browsers and cloud gaming. We also have a live market investigation which followed a reference from the UK’s Telecommunications regulator, Ofcom, on cloud. Both the market studies and the market investigations have been important areas of activity to inform our thinking, and that sets us up very well as we go forward hopefully with the new powers we will be getting under the legislation when it goes through. 

Antitrust Source: I am recalling, I think correctly, going back to the example of the banking study, how some of the commentary at the time said: “Where’s the big bang in the remedy here? Why do we have this emphasis on conduct? Why aren’t we breaking up banks?” There was a bit of disappointment with the result. 

Sarah Cardell: Yes, there was some criticism at the time, or at least commentary, asking why the CMA was not breaking up the big banks. Actually, I think the open banking remedy that came through took a couple of years to get going but now is a showcase example of how you can open up a market, particularly a market that is evolving off the back of digital transformation. 

Antitrust Source: It seems to me that that example that you mention, I think so rightly, is one worth studying very broadly. It suggests how a variety of different remedial approaches can get you to the destination, that you have to be a bit patient to see how things unfold, but that seems to me to teach as much as any other modern episode of intervention about how we go about making policy in the future. 

Sarah Cardell: Yes, I agree. 

Antitrust Source: The degree to which it represented a major investment in what could be called research and development, industry knowledge, it seems to me that is a powerful tool to use to rebut the argument that agencies really cannot learn enough about the field in these highly complex areas that are so dynamic that agencies don’t quite know enough to do a proper diagnosis, to choose a form of intervention, and to understand the policy direction ahead. It seems to me that that investment in building knowledge is essential for the broader role that the CMA has sought to play here. 

Sarah Cardell: Again, I agree, and all credit to Andrea Coscelli, who as the CMA’s previous Chief Executive was a key driver of a lot of that thinking and also I think a key driver five or so years ago to develop a DaTA team within the CMA—and by “DaTA” I mean not just data; we call it DaTA as an acronym, but that covers our data analysts, our data scientists, our technologists with technology insight capabilities, and digital forensics, for example. 

That function is now up to around eighty people. They are the people who power a lot of that digital markets analysis. They are able to go toe-to-toe with their counterparts in some of the major tech firms, and have real credibility in those conversations, whether it is in that broad understanding the market and the dynamics in the market space or whether it is in quite granular remedy design. The work we are doing with Google in relation to the privacy sandbox is a good example of how we are using that team—and that will continue to be a cornerstone of our growing capability as we look ahead to the new digital markets regime. 

But we are not stopping there. I think it is important to continue to reflect on the capabilities that we have internally. I think there is more that we can do to bring in people with an investment analyst background, a strategic analyst background, a business analyst background, who can complement the more traditional legal and economic capabilities to make sure that we have credibility. Going back to the discussion we were having at the very beginning—it’s important to build credibility with our business stakeholders and show that we understand the realities of the commercial environments that they are operating in. That is critical for me. We have to maintain that knowledge, that expertise, and that credibility to continue to deliver as an agency. 

Antitrust Source: I was wondering, Sarah, if you could say a bit more about the backgrounds of the people who are in that DaTA team, the multidisciplinary perspective that they bring to the work? 

Sarah Cardell: A lot of them have quite a deep analytical capability. Some of them have come straight out of technology firms, some have come from a consulting background, and also some with a more of an academic background too, so we are building that capability across a number of frontiers. We recognize that there will be some people there who will come to work for a few years at the CMA and then want to move on; they are not necessarily going to want to stay here for ten years. Others may well see more of a career path here, and we are continuing to build that team so that career path exists. 

I think again it goes back to the point we were discussing earlier about agility. We need to be agile also in our institutional design and in the skills and experience that we carry. 

Antitrust Source: I will mention as well for our audience that that experience has had a powerful impact globally. That is, when agencies today think about the team that you need to work effectively in this area, they look first and foremost to the CMA experience as an exemplar of how you build the requisite team that is multidisciplinary in its perspective and is focused on building high-quality analytical skills that put you in a position to match the most sophisticated tech firms step for step along the way. It has had a powerful international ripple that comes from the remarkable investment that the CMA made in building this team. It is a huge international effect. 

If I could turn a bit toward the future, Brexit, as you mentioned, signaled a major change in the role of the CMA in the larger competition policy environment. The predecessor organizations always were important and played lead roles in major international organizations. How do you see the role of the CMA today in this international environment in which you have many important international players? What is the distinctive place of the CMA in that global space? 

Sarah Cardell: It is important that we play an active role in that international space, and that is through both our bilateral engagement but also through engagement in multilateral fora. Obviously, that comes in a number of different forms—the International Competition Network (ICN), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the G7 and others—that we are part of. 

The opportunity to come together as a group of agencies to share our thinking—and I am not talking here about specific cases but more broadly emerging trends and developing practices—whether that is, as you say, some of the points we are discussing around institutional design, approach, skills, and experience, where there is a lot for us to learn from one another, where I hope we give but we also certainly learn a lot from others; but also sharing substantive thinking, not limited to but obviously across areas like digital markets where we are looking at global markets and global trends, it is so important that we have the opportunity to come together. 

It is important for agencies, but it is also important for businesses, which many times will be, as we know, on the receiving end of reviews, investigations, and inquiries by many agencies simultaneously, or in close proximity, looking at the same or similar issues, whether that is merger control, whether that is antitrust enforcement, or whether that is other reviews and inquiries.  

While at the end of the day we all have our own independent roles and responsibilities and our own mandates, to the extent that we can share a joint view of a lot of these issues and trends is beneficial both to us as an enforcement community but also, I think and hope, beneficial to the businesses that have to engage with a number of us on similar issues. The international role for the CMA remains important, particularly post-Brexit, and it is vital that we are part of that international community. 

Antitrust Source: From time to time there are expressions of concern, perhaps from some elected officials in North America but also in other settings, “My goodness, these agencies are cooperating,” the suggestion that the cooperation is in some sense untoward. Could you say a bit about how you respond to that anxiety about the extent to which groups of agencies are pooling their knowledge and pooling their efforts in looking at specific transactions or larger policy issues? 

Sarah Cardell: Certainly, when we are talking, not in relation to specific deals but at a higher level, for the reasons I just said, I think it is hugely important and beneficial that that collaboration is ongoing. Every agency has its own set of legal powers, responsibilities, and mandates, but to be able to share that thinking and that learning, I genuinely believe becomes a huge net positive for the wider communities that we are engaging with. 

Of course, when it comes to individual transactions, we are all subject to the legal constraints that exist. That will vary case by case, it will vary depending on our jurisdictional restrictions, and of course in many cases it will vary depending on, for example, whether the companies have granted waivers for us to share specific information. 

Many times, I think there is benefit in those discussions, for example, to be able to align on process and timing. We hear often from merging parties, for example, that they see real benefit in us having an awareness of one another’s process and timetable of where we are at, and they are looking to help assist with that. In many cases there is a real benefit where the parties agree through waivers to us sharing our thinking and understanding.  

Of course, at the end of the day we make our decisions independently, and in the case of merger control we apply the UK merger control rules, but it is certainly very helpful for us to have an understanding, to the extent that there are global issues or similar issues, of how other agencies are considering things. But there are limits to that. We respect those limits, and at the end of the day, we take decisions as the CMA based on the evidence that we have before us, applying our rules. 

Antitrust Source: With a regime too that I think emphasizes disclosure of thought processes, I am struck at the level of transparency that comes with what the CMA does at every step along the way—whether it is the statement of prioritization principles, the statement of case selection criteria, the explanation of reasons for acting, and the disclosure of thinking. Am I right in thinking that that emphasis on disclosure and engagement with the external role is a crucial element of the legitimacy and performance of the CMA? 

Sarah Cardell: You’re right. Maybe going back to my previous role as General Counsel, it is very much inherent in the way that we operate. We think it is incredibly important to have that transparent, open, and accountable perspective. 

Ultimately, we have significant powers, and we are accountable for the actions that we take, the decisions that we take, and we want that process to be transparent both as parties engage with us through the process but also in understanding why we are taking the decisions that we are taking. 

One of the things that I have really focused on since I took up the role of Chief Executive is to be visibly accountable for the work that we are doing and explain why we are doing it. That is important. It is essential that businesses, people, and our wider stakeholder community, understand the decisions that we are taking. The transparency element is absolutely baked in, I would say, both in our processes but also in our DNA in terms of the way that we operate as an organization. Two good examples of that are very live for us at the moment.  

We just completed a review of our Phase 2 process. This is when we have our in-depth Phase 2 merger control investigation. That was already an incredibly transparent process where there were lots of opportunities for engagement. We listened to our stakeholders, we recognized that those processes had not been refreshed for ten years, that it was the right time to review those, and we have put forward a number of changes to further increase opportunities for parties to engage and to understand the reasoning of our decision makers as they are going through that process. That is a further step up in what was already a very open and transparent process. 

We are also looking forward to developing the new regime and the processes under the new digital markets element of the bill that is going through Parliament. Again openness, transparency, accountability, what we call a “participative engagement model,” is absolutely a part of that design, and I think should look and feel quite different, and quite bespoke to the United Kingdom. I have had a number of conversations when I have been over in the United States about how open we have been, our willingness to sit down with businesses and with advisors, and I hope that is recognized as quite a distinctive feature of the UK regime. 

Antitrust Source: A final thought to explore: When you look ahead on the horizon, perhaps thinking back to the superb program that you had to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the formation of the new institution, what is your sense about the handful of major challenges going ahead and how you intend to address them? 

Sarah Cardell: When we think very big picture—I am actually going to borrow from the event that we had. You mentioned we had a celebratory event reflecting on the achievements of the last ten years but also very much looking forward. 

One of our new non-executive board members, when asked what he wanted for the CMA over the next ten years, said it was to have a sense that every person and every business in the United Kingdom had a sense that the CMA has their back. I think that captures nicely what we are looking to achieve. We are here for our stakeholders. We are here for the people and the businesses of the United Kingdom.  

We want to do that from an international perspective, in a way that helps global businesses that are engaging with the UK competition regime to understand the way we operate, going back to the point on transparency, and understand our decisions. So continuing that program of global engagement as well as domestic engagement within the United Kingdom is critical. 

We are going to see, I think, continuing volatility in our external operating environment. We have seen continuing external economic volatility. I think globally that will continue, and I think that will continue to bring challenges for competition authorities as well as many others in the coming years. 

And then, certainly from our perspective, taking on and successfully delivering the new digital markets regime as well as our new consumer protection powers, is going to be absolutely critical. 

I am very excited about that new regime. I think we can deliver something quite unique that we can look back on with pride in ten years’ time and see a real difference in the way that we are able to operate, support, and I hope to constructively engage with many businesses.  

I really hope that this new regime will be an opportunity to deliver outcomes that support open, fair, and effective competition that works for all businesses large and small, and works for consumers in the United Kingdom, but also works for businesses across the globe that engage in UK markets; but I would like to hope that we can do that in a way that is not always combative and not always driven by litigation but is actually driven by constructive engagement. That is a challenge for us as an agency, but it is also a challenge for businesses that engage with us, and I hope that we can come together to deliver on that. 

Antitrust Source: My own thought to close this out, Sarah, is first, thank you so much for joining us and sharing your thoughts about the origin and the progress of the new institution.  

We hear so much about dynamism, change, and innovation in the private sector in commerce. We spend less time talking about the need for dynamism, innovation, and evolution in the public sector, experimentation, and the development of new institutions. It seems to me that the CMA is a great story for the new era to show how public institutions can be just as innovative, can be just as creative in creating new structures, and building and investing in the capability to do absolutely first-rate policy work in the future. 

In that respect, perhaps if one has lost a bit of faith in the quality of public administration, the CMA is a wonderful story to examine because of how well it has done these things for the future. It does not necessarily predict success in every endeavor—if we could do that, we would all be running very successful hedge funds and sitting on a beach earning 20 percent—but the extent to which doing the right things the right way and making these continuing adjustments is a basis for improving the prospects of good success. It seems like the CMA is right there, unlike any other institution, and you and your colleagues are to be congratulated for it. 

Sarah Cardell: Thanks, Bill. That is obviously at the heart of my focus and my priorities.  

I remember when I was being interviewed for the Chief Executive role I was asked: “You’ve been General Counsel for eight or nine years. How can you convince us that you are really going to drive change?” 

My answer was very simple: “We cannot afford to stand still as an organization,” and I think I have demonstrated that very comprehensively over the last eighteen months or so because I genuinely and passionately believe in what we are doing.  

I think we are here to deliver positive outcomes for people in businesses and support the UK economy and support the role that the United Kingdom has to play in a global economy, but we have to do that through a constant process of evolution, dynamism, rising to the next challenge, anticipating and being a little bit ahead of the curve, and being able to perhaps do things differently. 

Antitrust Source: By any measure, an institution fit for purpose and fit for the challenges that lie ahead. Thank you so much, Sarah. 

Sarah Cardell: Thank you so much, Bill.