South Derry construction firm FP McCann named in probe into price-fixing cartel

FP McCann has been named as part of a cartel investigation, but the CMA says there is no assumption that it has broken the law
Gary McDonald Business Editor

A LONG-established south Derry construction company has been named in a UK-wide probe into a cartel which was allegedly involved in price-fixing contracts and which operated for nearly seven years.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has provisionally found that three drainage product manufacturers broke competition law by coordinating prices for customers and sharing the market.

Two of the businesses – Derbyshire-based Stanton Bonna Concrete and Somerset-based CPM Group – have admitted breaking competition law by taking part in a cartel, which started in 2006.

And the CMA confirmed that FP McCann at Knockloughrim near Magherafelt is also under investigation, but it has not made any admissions.

The watchdog claims the three companies held regular secret meetings to set up and operate an illegal cartel with the aim being to fix or coordinate prices and share out the market for certain pre-cast concrete drainage products in Britain, with the intention of increasing prices and reducing competition.

Throughout the period of the alleged cartel activity, the CMA claims the companies were "leading players", accounting for over half of the market (from 2010 onwards they held over 90 per cent of pre-cast concrete drainage products market).

As part of a settlement process, Stanton Bonna and CPM have admitted to participating in the alleged cartel and have agreed to pay fines, which will be determined at the end of the CMA’s overall investigation.

But FP McCann - which employs nearly 1,400 people and last year had a turnover of £216 million - is not part of this settlement and the CMA says that, at this stage, no assumption can be made that it has broken the law.

When contacted by the Irish News, the company said it was making no comment.

Michael Grenfell, executive director of enforcement at the CMA, said: “Cartels damage competition and lead to less choice, less innovation and increased prices for customers.

“We’ve provisionally found that these three firms secretly shared out the market and colluded on prices for construction products used in many building projects across Great Britain.

“The CMA does not tolerate such practices and will use our enforcement tools to crack down on those it believes are taking part in illegal cartels.”

In a recent CMA clampdown against cartels, two suppliers of bagged charcoal and coal for households in the UK were fined £3.4 million while a number of water tank firms were fined £2.6 million after they formed a cartel agreeing to fix the price of certain tanks, divide up customers and rig bids for contracts.

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