The acting chief of Britain’s competition watchdog will be appointed as its permanent boss this week, ending a year-long vacancy for a role likely to be made more complicated by Brexit.
Sky News has learnt that Andrea Coscelli will be named on Wednesday as the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) new chief executive.
The announcement by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) will come more than 12 months after Alex Chisholm’s resignation – a delay which reinforced perceptions of a logjam in key Whitehall-led appointments.
Mr Coscelli, whose previous roles included running the CMA’s markets and mergers division, was pitted against rival candidates including Clive Maxwell, the former head of the Office of Fair Trading and now a senior official at BEIS.
One source said that BEIS had rerun the selection process amid concerns about the original shortlist, but that Mr Coscelli had emerged as an appointment panel’s “clear choice”.
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.
That will bring its own degree of complexity as the UK watchdog adjusts to the post-Brexit environment, according to insiders.
Among the domestic 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.
Last month, 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 the recent 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 by Mr 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.
A BEIS spokeswoman declined to comment on Tuesday.