Britain's competition policy undermines UK start-ups

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Shadrach   in Business & Office

Last updated: 29 January 2020, 11:50 GMT


Within the 24 years since I co-founded Index Ventures, I even have never felt the necessity to talk out about the actions of a UK regulator. In fact, a thoughtful and forward-thinking regulatory environment has underpinned Britains status as Europes leading technology economy and made it the only biggest destination for the £5bn Index Ventures has invested in start-ups.

Entrepreneurs are willing to travel up against large, established incumbents here partially because they're confident that the principles of the sport are fair, predictable and keep step with change.

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That is why recent decisions by the Competition and Markets Authority, including the review of Amazons planned investment in Deliveroo, are so concerning. It sets a dangerous precedent and exposes 3 ways during which the UKs competition regime is becoming inadequate at a time when other EU countries, including France and therefore the Netherlands, are moving to require advantage of Brexit by rolling out the red carpet for fast-growing tech companies.

Index and number of our colleagues are Deliveroo investors so we've got skin inside the market. But the more interventionist approach of the CMA in this case, within the 13-month review of the purchase of iZettle by PayPal, and with an identical outlook for the Just Eat effect of Takeaway.com, has far wider negative implications for start-ups and for the industry's assessment of the united kingdom as an area to take a stand.

First, the CMAs timeline isn't fit purpose when it involves high-growth companies. By the time the regulator opines on Amazon-Deliveroo in June, it'll are nearly a year since it declared its intention to intervene. For a fast-growing start-up, that's an eternity to be waiting to access funding needed to expand, hire talent and remain competitive. Removing or restricting the power of companies like Deliveroo to boost money is like asking a Formula One driver to attend within the pit while competitors race ahead.

The irony is that the CMA may inhibit competition and reduce the choices made by British consumers in its effort to guard the competitive health of the markets. Nothing in the report this week indicates the CMA is sensitive to those issues.

Third, company engagement in the funding rounds of bigger tech companies searching for comparison is not an equal aspect to takeover. Consequently, Amazon's partial stake in Deliveroo varies from Just Eat's partnership with Takeaway.com.

As entrepreneurs attempt to build global businesses that will compete with US and Chinese players, they will have to look for larger sources of capital including corporate investors. Selling a minority of a company's equity in successive funding rounds doesn't imply it's being purchased, sold or merged repeatedly.

Third, the CMA must remain balanced because it uses what if scenarios to justify its intervention. for instance , the watchdog has argued within the Amazon-Deliveroo case that, without the deal, Amazon could be more likely to enter the united kingdom food delivery market independently.

This is highly speculative, particularly in light of the very fact that Amazon pulled out of the united kingdom market two years ago and has stated that it'll not re-enter it. But albeit we accept the supposition, the CMA must weigh it against the results of blocking the investment  namely, to limit the start-ups ability to compete against well-funded competitors.

The more the CMA relies on speculative judgments of how the longer term will evolve, the less confidence companies and investors will have that the regulator is predictable, credible and fair.

Failing to deal with these questions isn't just a problem for the businesses involved during a deal, except for the UKs start-up sector as an entire . If the CMA process is riddled with uncertainty, and its duration may be a source of competitive harm, this may affect the motivation to start out and invest in companies within the UK altogether.

Alternatively, the united kingdom can ensure its competition regime continues to be best-in-class and nurtures its talent. Otherwise, entrepreneurs working to create global companies in Britain will do so with one arm tied behind their backs  and investors will have a really good reason to seem elsewhere.