Competition watchdog targets offenders north of the Border

The UK's competition watchdog is tightening the screw on Scottish firms, urging them to toe the line with the relevant parts of the law and come forward if they see any non-compliant activity.

Michael Grenfell, executive director for enforcement at the Competition & Markets Authority. Picture: Contributed

The Competition & Markets Authority’s executive director for enforcement Michael Grenfell was north of the Border yesterday to speak to business representatives and advisers, emphasising the body’s remit as it ramps up its number of enforcement cases.

His visit comes after the regulator, which has offices in Edinburgh, found that 72 per cent of Scottish businesses said they knew competition law not very well, not at all well or had never heard of it, while a third thought retail price maintenance was allowed.

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Grenfell said the CMA’s work at the sharper end involves imposing “very serious sanctions,” mainly large fines for companies, and in the most serious cases, imprisonment for individuals directly involved in anti-competitive behaviour.

The CMA last month revealed its highest-ever fine at £84.2 million, for pharmaceutical giant Pfizer’s role in over-charging the NHS, helping bring the regulator’s 2016 fine total to more than £140m, up from £1.2m in 2015.

Grenfell stressed that “it does not pay to break competition law”, with some people believing it concerns a “technical, esoteric area of commercial law that has nothing to do with them – people need to understand it matters a lot”.

The CMA is consulting on John Menzies’ deal to buy rival ASIG, with the Edinburgh-based logistics firm moving to alleviate concerns.

Menzies said yesterday that negotiations with the CMA regarding the takeover were at an “advanced” stage and it expects to complete the deal in the coming weeks. The group is also due to announce its annual results on 8 March and told investors that trading continues to meet its board’s expectations.

It added: “At Menzies Aviation, the division continues to trade well supported by continuing contract win and renewal momentum across the network and particularly at London Gatwick, following the withdrawal of a competitor from the UK market.

“Overall, the group is continuing to make progress with its strategic objectives and is well placed to deliver further earnings growth during 2017.”