Competition watchdog warns councils over high-strength alcohol schemes

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has warned local authorities that schemes aimed at reducing consumption of high-strength alcohol must not breach competition law.

The CMA has written to the Local Government Association, local authorities and other relevant bodies to remind them to consider the watchdog’s guidance materials.

Issued last year, these materials are designed to help authorities design and implement schemes that do not breach competition law.

The CMA has also sought to clarify the narrow circumstances where it is likely to consider taking enforcement action, “namely where a scheme is suspected of acting as a cover for price-fixing between competing retailers or where it is suspected of allowing retailers to share future pricing intentions, which in both cases could result in consumers paying more”.

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The watchdog said its guidance also made it clear that retailers could make an independent decision to join a scheme and stop selling high-strength alcohol, provided they do not discuss this or agree to this in co-operation with other retailers, either directly or indirectly.

John Kirkpatrick, CMA Senior Director, Research, Intelligence and Advocacy, said: “We are aware that local authorities support these schemes to bring about positive public health and safety outcomes and we are also aware that the industry has concerns about whether such schemes comply with the law.

“We are reminding local authorities how competition law might apply to such schemes, so they can consider how to introduce schemes which achieve the desired results without breaking the law.”


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