Lovells partner made chairman of Office of Fair Trading

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The Independent Online

The new head of the UK's main competition watchdog is to be a corporate lawyer who has specialised in the field for 30 years.

The new head of the UK's main competition watchdog is to be a corporate lawyer who has specialised in the field for 30 years.

Philip Collins, a senior partner at the international law firm Lovells, will take over as chairman of the Office of Fair Trading from Sir John Vickers in October on a salary of £160,000. He will work two and a half days a week.

Mr Collins, who has been based in Brussels for the past 12 years, has been appointed to the OFT for a four-year period. He was one of 37 candidates considered for the post, the most high-profile job in UK competition policy and enforcement.

Mr Collins could face potential conflicts of interest in his new role because of the large number of companies he has represented in the past. However, he stressed that he would not undertake any corporate work when he joins the OFT.

From October the roles of chairman and chief executive of the OFT, both of which are currently filled by Sir John, will be split to bring the body into line with other regulators. One of Mr Collins's first tasks will be to find a chief executive - a process which will begin in the next few weeks.

The OFT's main responsibilities are enforcement of competition law, including taking action against cartels, and consumer law. It is also responsible for deciding whether mergers need to be referred to the Competition Commission and for referring entire market sectors. Recently its powers have been increased, particularly its ability to fine companies up to 10 per cent of their turnover for market abuses.

However, the Hampton report published last week by Gordon Brown alongside the Budget recommended that the OFT's consumer protection role be taken away from it and transferred to a new Consumer Standards Trading Agency.

Mr Collins is 57 and married with two grown-up children. Having advised many companies on competition and merger inquiries over the years, he said he was looking forward to becoming a poacher turned gamekeeper. "After 30 years of case work it will be very interesting to go over to the other side and be involved in major issues of policy. This kind of opportunity is too good to pass by."

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