Competition and Markets Authority and Cartels in Construction

The Construction Leadership Council is an example of what an industry can do when its members legitimately work together to drive the industry forwards.

Since I was appointed as CLC chair I have been hugely impressed by the way that companies of all sizes and disciplines have collaborated to help each other, driving the CLC’s strategic direction to improve the performance of UK construction.

We all do better when we help each other and operate fairly and within the law.

Yet some people only want to help themselves at the expense of others and are prepared to break the law to do so.

In recent years a series of companies have been caught undermining fair competition, cheating their customers through cartel behaviour such as artificially increasing pricing, rigging bids for contracts or carving up a market with rivals for their own gain.

We know about this because the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has investigated and held them to account.  The CMA has been very clear – it has its eyes on construction, targeting those firms that gang together to cheat those that buy from them.

And the CMA carries a big stick.  £67 million in fines have been handed out across just five cartel cases over the last 5 years.  Companies in concrete drainage; groundworks; galvanised steel tanks; roofing materials; and office fit out sectors have all found that they were not beyond the reach of the CMA.

Often a successful investigation begins when one member of a cartel holds their hands up, admits to their behaviour and exposes the other members of the cartel.  Provided they fully co-operate with the CMA, the first to confess can benefit from the CMA’s leniency programme while others involved in the wrongdoing can face large fines for their company, director disqualifications and in the most serious cases – criminal convictions.

But leniency isn’t the only way the CMA uncovers wrongdoing. It has strong powers of investigation and over half of CMA cases are intelligence led.  It is also working with construction clients – public sector procurement officials, who might see tell-tale signs of anti-competitive behaviour.

My message to industry is simple. We know that most of us will be complying and play by the rules. Even so, it doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves and our teams on competition law and be clear about what is and what is not allowed. The CLC will be running a free webinar next month to help you do just this.

My message to those who think they might be involved in anti-competitive behaviour is equally clear. Don’t risk the serious consequences of getting caught – now is the time to report and cooperate with a CMA investigation. Don’t wait for them to come knocking at your door.

Make use of the CMA’s advice for businesses here.


Andy Mitchell,    Co-chair, Construction Leadership Council

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