The government is looking to appoint the first female head of the UK competition regulator to replace Andrea Coscelli when he steps down in July.
Sarah Cardell, the Competition and Markets Authority’s most senior lawyer, is considered to be one of the leading contenders, according to several people with knowledge of the process.
Coscelli announced in January that he was stepping down after six years at the helm. But the official start of the search for his successor has been delayed as the government still needs to appoint a permanent chair at the CMA, almost two years after Andrew Tyrie was forced out in a boardroom coup. The new chair is expected to be appointed next month.
The strong preference in government is to replace Coscelli with a female chief executive, according to several people with knowledge of the process. The CMA and its predecessor, the Office of Fair Trading, have never had a permanent female chief executive, although Vivienne Dews served as interim head of the OFT for a month before it was dissolved in 2014.
Cardell is said to have the backing of a number of people influential in the selection process, according to several sources, as she would be expected to continue Coscelli’s agenda of pursuing large scale and increasingly transnational investigations against big tech.
But others with knowledge of the process, which is being run by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, cautioned there was still disagreement over the future direction of the CMA. Some inside the government want the watchdog to become more business friendly and adopt a less aggressive stance against companies such as Google and Facebook, according to a person with intimate knowledge of the situation.
Other names being discussed include Sonya Branch, general counsel at the Bank of England, Mary Starks, former executive director for consumers and markets at UK energy regulator Ofgem, and Linklaters’ global antitrust partner Nicole Kar.
There are also several potential male candidates, including Sheldon Mills, executive director, consumers and competition, at the Financial Conduct Authority.
Amelia Fletcher, a non-executive director at the CMA, who was also considered as a potential candidate, said she had decided not to apply as the “timing was not great for me for personal reasons”.
She added: “Of course, it would be wonderful if it were filled by a woman, and there are many very talented female competition experts out there these days. But the key is to get a great person into the post.”
The delay in replacing Tyrie meant the government had to extend the term of Jonathan Scott, a non-executive director at the CMA, as interim chair last year. A chief executive of a FTSE 100 company has been identified as the preferred candidate for permanent chair, according to several people familiar with the matter.
Coscelli, an economist, has taken a tough stance on regulating big tech during his six-year tenure and launched high-profile probes into Facebook, Apple and Google.
Cardell, Starks and Mills declined to comment. Kar did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The BoE declined to comment on Branch’s behalf.
The government and the CMA declined to comment.