Court rules to uphold CMA’s fine in steel tanks case

Michael Grenfell, CMA's Executive Director of Enforcement
Michael Grenfell, the CMA’s Executive Director of Enforcement

The UK Court of Appeal has upheld a fine for breach of competition law issued to a firm by the Competition and Markets Authority. The firm, Balmoral Tanks, had already appealed against the fine at a lower court.

In December 2016, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) fined Balmoral Tanks, a supplier of steel water tanks, £130,000 for taking part in an exchange of competitively-sensitive information on prices and pricing intentions with 3 other competitors. The exchange took place at a single meeting in July 2012 at which Balmoral was invited to join a long-running cartel to allocate customers and fix prices. Balmoral refused to take part in the customer allocation and price-fixing cartel but exchanged competitively-sensitive information with its competitors. That meeting was secretly recorded by the CMA and involved senior directors. The fine had been ratified at the Competition Appeal Tribunal and as a result Balmoral went to the Court of Appeal.

The CMA’s Executive Director of Enforcement, Michael Grenfell, CMA’s Executive Director of Enforcement, said: “This important judgment from the Court of Appeal sends a clear and unequivocal message, not just in this sector but to all businesses across the UK. If companies exchange competitively-sensitive, confidential information – even at just one meeting – that is itself a breach of competition law.”

The Balmoral Tanks case – what we’ve learnt

This case sends out an important message to all businesses that they must be clear on how to react in a meeting if asked to share commercially sensitive information or join a cartel.  It also demonstrates how just a single meeting, handled incorrectly, can come back to haunt you.

The CMA, together with VinciWorks, provides guidance and resources to help businesses avoid making the same mistake as Balmoral: