Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Let's Hear It for Competition Commission Openness

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Let's Hear It for Competition Commission Openness

Article excerpt

Byline: ANTHONY HILTON

GERMAN chemicals giant BASF would like to buy the vitamin business of Japanese pharmaceuticals firm Takeda Chemical. The deal is being investigated in 60 jurisdictions, many of which are waiting to see what Britain's Competition Commission decides. The inference from this should not be that the Brits are dragging their feet, rather that our commission is extremely highly-regarded by its peers.

Many in this country do not share that view. There is a belief that the commission is unworldly and liable to make the wrong decision when given the chance.

Such notions came to prominence following chairman Derek Morris's publication of his remedies letter in the investigation of small business banking. The commission was lambasted for including such notions as a windfall tax on the banks, which could put ideas in the Government's head.

Such scorn was misguided.

The Competition Commission is keen to be as open as possible but greater transparency necessarily involves hypothesising. It does not mean such ideas will ever reach the commission's final report.

Today's open meeting on Lloyds TSB's proposed bid for Abbey National is a case in point. Attended by more than 200 people, including banks, consumer groups, advisers and academics, it would never have happened under the old Monopolies and Mergers Commission and is clearly a step in the right direction.

There is even a webcast to provide virtual attendance.

In the days following the meeting, there will be hearings with third parties and the protagonists and an issues letter will be published before Easter, probably containing a list of possible remedies.

The thrust of the inquiry is based on an assessment of competition in British banking, the main drivers of the industry going forward and the impact a Lloyds bid for Abbey would have on the status quo. …

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