Lead suppliers admit anti-competition arrangements

Two of the UK’s largest suppliers of rolled lead have admitted to taking part in anti-competitive arrangements and could face fines of more than £11 million.

An investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigation found that Associated Lead Mills Ltd and H.J Enthoven Ltd (trading as BLM British Lead entered into arrangements including:

  • sharing the market, including by arranging not to target certain customers
  • colluding on prices
  • exchanging commercially sensitive information on prices
  • arranging not to supply a new business that risked disrupting the firms’ existing customer relationships and was also a potential competitor in the market.

 A third company, Calder Industrial Materials Ltd, is also under investigation in relation to one of the arrangements and has not made any admissions.

The three companies, Associated Lead Mills, BLM British Lead and Calder Industrial Materials together account for about 90% of UK rolled lead supplies.

The CMA has issued the three firms with a ‘supplementary statement of objections’. Its view is that there was not a single overall cartel arrangement, but rather 4 individual arrangements that broke competition law.

Both Associated Lead Mills and BLM British Lead have admitted to their parts in these arrangements, which took place between October 2015 and March 2017. The 2 firms have agreed to pay maximum fines totalling more than £11 million, although the exact amount will be determined at the end of the CMA’s investigation, if there is a formal final decision that the law has been broken.

With regard to Calder Industrial Materials, the CMA has provisionally found that it became involved, at a later stage, in the arrangement with Associated Lead Mills and BLM British Lead not to supply a new business that risked disrupting the firms’ customer relationships and was a potential competitor in the market. Calder Industrial Materials has made no admission of liability and the CMA’s investigation is continuing. No assumption should be made that Calder Industrial Materials has broken the law.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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