The UK’s new competition authority has revealed it does not plan to outlaw the growing number of local authority and police schemes barring the sale of high-strength, cheap booze, despite a string of industry bodies claiming they are illegal.
The Competition and Markets Authority, which took over the powers of the OFT and the Competition Commission this month, said the bans, which have sprung up across nearly 100 local authorities, did not constitute a breach of competition law provided they were based on local licensing rules or individual agreements between authorities and retailers.
While it said it would continue to monitor the situation, it made it clear it did not intend to veto the existing schemes, despite the British Beer & Pub Association, the National Association of Cider Makers and the Wine and Spirit Trade Association calling for action.
“Voluntary schemes do not automatically raise competition law concerns and it is important to consider the circumstances of each scheme,” said a spokesman.
“Competition law is not necessarily a bar to local authorities wishing to pursue voluntary collaboration to achieve public policy objectives without the need for further legislation or regulation.”
The CMA said schemes such as Ipswich police’s Reducing the Strength campaign were not illegal because they were based on retailers taking “their own independent action,” albeit in response to a public policy led by the police. Schemes driven by changes to local licences were not a breach of the prohibition against anti-competitive agreements, it added.
The CMA said it would, however, step in if businesses “entered into agreements or concerted practices with their competitors”, even if they were encouraged to do so by their local authority.