“People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations.
Last year, for the first time ever, the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) took out advertisements publicising the fact that it would pay £100,000 rewards for information about cartels. Since then there has been a 30% rise in the number of tip-offs It has received.
Now the CMA is focussing specifically on construction, manufacturing and business support services. It has been given an extra £2.8million from the government to continue the campaign.
The CMA is asking people in the industry to be 'safe, not sorry' if they think they might have been involved in cartel activity. It reminds firms that they can avoid penalties if they are the first to confess to having been involved in price fixing.
Otherwise they can be fined up to 10% of turnover and the individuals involved can be sent to prison for up to five years.
Those who have knowledge of cartels but are not themselves involved are being asked to 'do the right thing' and report the offence to the CMA. And if doing the right thing is not incentive enough, the £100,000 reward might be.
CMA says whistle-blowers will be treated sensitively and identities might be kept secret if it is appropriate.
Stephen Blake, Senior Director for Cartels at the CMA, says: “We are committed to tackling cartels wherever we find them. More people are reporting illegal activity to us and we urge anyone with information to come forward. If you’re involved, it’s better to be safe, not sorry, and tell us about it first – before someone else does."
Fines totalling £151million have been imposed on companies convicted of anti-competitive practices in the past two years. CMA is currently investigating 15 more cases.