Morrisons Daily McColls

The Competition & Markets Authority continues to baffle. The latest example: its meddlesome investigation into Morrisons’ McColl’s acquisition.

The CTN/c-store chain was in administration, and even a cursory look at the stores, the estate and the market shares will tell you nothing needs to be done.

Yet it’s now on a ‘hold separate’. The patient is in cardiac arrest. Let the doctors in now – not in another three months. There must be a speedier way in the circumstances.

Oh hang on. There is. The so-called ‘failing firm’ status was used by the CMA at the start of the pandemic to wave through Amazon’s investment in Deliveroo – just as Deliveroo’s sales were taking off. Why should that rule not apply here?

The CMA has never exactly been quick on the draw. It’s only just finished its enquiry into CD&R’s acquisition of Morrisons. That saw the disposal of 87 forecourts amid concern over a lessening of competition in the sector. Does anyone seriously think that’s going to make a difference as fuel prices soar?

The real lessening of competition in that sector has come from the CMA’s approval of Asda’s takeover by the Issa brothers, owners of the EG Group. With its arcane tests of local market forces, the CMA decreed that a mere 27 of Asda’s 320 forecourts be sold, but the real lessening has come from the Issas simply having a different attitude to pricing. With 450 forecourts of its own it’s not got a monopoly. But it’s never been one to rock the boat. And that suits rivals just fine.

Now the idea has been raised that the CMA is about to poke its nose into grocery retailer-supplier negotiations, with the government potentially folding it in via a funding review of the Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA). It’s a terrifying prospect for suppliers, particularly now, as relations deteriorate for the first time since the Adjudicator came in amid fierce cost-price increase fights. Negotiations in the bad old days were like the Wild West. Does anyone seriously think the CMA will cope as the sheriff in a new Dodge City? Is anyone really suggesting the government might limit the impact of the cost of living crisis by intervening at this level?