By Daniel Hunter

Supporting consumers and economic growth through difficult times remain central priorities, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) stated in its Annual Plan published this week.

During 2012/13 the OFT will focus on three strategic business objectives of high impact enforcement, influencing markets through advocacy and guidance, and building organisational delivery and capability.

Within this, particular priority will be given to five cross-cutting themes:

- Responding robustly to market problems facing consumers who are vulnerable, whether as a result of the current adverse economic climate, or their personal circumstances.

- Building trust in online markets, with the internet an area of both continuing economic growth and consumer detriment.

- Intellectual property (IP) and high innovation markets, to ensure business norms of transparency and fairness are upheld in markets undergoing rapid change, and that IP protection supports innovation and isn't exercised against consumers' interests.

- Tackling instances where pricing is used as a barrier to fair choice, targeting business practices that seek to reduce competition, create complexity, or construct offers in a way that consumers would not expect.

- Working constructively with other government departments and public bodies to help them frame and deliver public services that work well for citizens and taxpayers.

"It is vital to support consumers, make markets work well and drive economic growth in the current difficult conditions," OFT Chairman, Philip Collins, said.

"Against the background of proposals for significant change being planned for the future, we will continue to focus next year on delivering the best outcomes for consumers, including the most vulnerable, and for the UK economy.

"The OFT also aims to bolster its efficiency, further improve its processes and invest in its staff, underpinning its ability to tackle current and emerging issues for consumers and in the economy while providing vital stepping stones for the changes to take place in future years."

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