Is an in-depth energy market inquiry worth it?

March 27, 2014

(by Catherine Waddams) The decision to refer the energy market to the new Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) will be welcomed by many but will also have costs. On the positive side, the opportunity for a thorough review of the market enables analysis without immediate political pressure, either directly on the market or on the regulator. It is important to restore public confidence in the market, either by giving it a clean bill of health, or identifying any problems and remedying them. Read the rest of this entry »


Can the OFT Succeed in its Latest Attempt at Bringing Criminal Charges Against an Individual for Cartel Conduct?

February 18, 2014

(by Scott Summers) The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has charged Peter Nigel Snee under section 188 of the Enterprise Act 2002. It is alleged that he ‘dishonestly agreed with others’ to fix prices, allocate markets and rig bids in the market for galvanised steel tanks for water storage, between 2004 and 2012. This is the UK’s first criminal cartel prosecution since the collapse of the British Airways trial back in 2010,[1] which left a number of unanswered questions about the ‘dishonesty’ element and the UK cartel offence in general. The Snee case will fall under the existing cartel offence. The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 will, from 1 April 2014, strip the ‘dishonesty’ element and introduce new carve-outs and defences to the offence. Read the rest of this entry »


Ofcom: A Credible Solution to Bias in Media Public Interest Mergers?

February 16, 2014

(by David Reader) On 4 February, the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications published its Report on Media Plurality proposing a number of changes to media ownership regulation in the UK. Among the most notable is the proposal to grant decision-making powers to the media regulator, Ofcom, in mergers raising potential media plurality concerns. At present, this role is performed by the Secretary of State but, as has been noted in a previous post by Andreas Stephan, the ability of politicians to undertake this role impartially has recently been called into question. In particular, the close contact between a NewsCorp lobbyist and a Special Adviser to (the then Culture Secretary) Jeremy Hunt during the NewsCorp/BSkyB assessment, as exposed by the Leveson Inquiry, highlights the sheer extent to which politicians can be subjected to undue influence in the media sector. Re-allocating the decision-making role to Ofcom could overcome this problem, but it could equally amount to substituting one problem for another. Read the rest of this entry »


Does Every Little Supermarket Price Guarantee Help?

November 22, 2013

(by Morten Hviid) Last week, Asda’s marketing chief was reported as saying: “It is strange to me that our competitors are touting how much they match prices and are working towards parity. I find it almost anti-competitive that large competitors are talking about and proud to be matching each other’s prices. We are the only ones standing up and saying we’ll be 10 per cent cheaper” (Marketing Week, 15 November).  I have previously pointed out the potential anti-competitive effects of price guarantees, so it is unsurprising that I agree with him on the first point.  I will spell out one overlooked implication of the guarantee offered by Sainsbury’s and partially copied by Tesco below.  However, he is a bit too quick to absolve Asda’s price guarantee from potential anti-competitive blame. Read the rest of this entry »


A Simple Way to Boost Competition in the Energy Market

November 8, 2013

(by Andreas Stephan) The latest round of increases in energy prices has sparked an angry debate about how well competition is working in the UK market. Energy companies claim increases reflect rising wholesale prices and government levies, while politicians are making allegations of collusion. A long term view of how to make the energy market more competitive for consumers has been drowned out by political point scoring. Yet there may be a simple way of jump starting greater competitive pressures against the relentless price rises. Read the rest of this entry »


The Meaning of ‘Relevant Customer Benefits’ in the Context of Health Care: Monitor’s Advice and the Competition Commission’s Response

October 28, 2013

(by Mary Guy)[1] On 17 October, the Competition Commission (CC) blocked the proposed merger between Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and The Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (hereafter “the Dorset FT merger”), the first to be assessed under the regime for Foundation Trusts (FTs) established by the Health and Social Care Act 2012 (HSCA 2012). This new regime sees Monitor providing advice regarding “relevant customer benefits” to the OFT, which – along with the CC – has exclusive competence to determine mergers between NHS FTs. The case suggests that a higher standard of ‘relevant customer benefits’ is applied in the context of mergers in health care. Read the rest of this entry »


Cameron’s Plans for Energy Combine the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

October 24, 2013

(by Catherine Waddams) Yesterday the Prime Minister announced two new measures as a response to the latest increases in energy prices. He promised an annual review of competition in the market and to “roll back some of the green regulations and charges that are pushing up bills”. While an enquiry by competition authorities should be welcomed, the proposed measures also raise some serious concerns. Read the rest of this entry »


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