While the overall knowledge of competition law has improved over the last two years amongst UK companies, research by the Office of Fair Trading (the "OFT") shows that small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are poorly educated when it comes to the maze that is competition law. The watchdog is now launching the campaign "Championing Competition" to rectify the problem.
The general aim of improving the understanding of competition law is promoted to SMEs, not just as a necessity for keeping out of trouble themselves, but also as a tool with which companies can take advantage of a market with working competition by being able to spot unfair practices.
Too many smaller companies still assume, mistakenly, that competition law bears no relevance to their organisation. This is a dangerous mistake to make, as recent OFT action shows. In April we reported that a local-level cartel in the roofing industry had been discovered by the watchdog. Ten roofing contractors were found guilty of price fixing and collusive tendering with fines of approximately £560,000 being imposed.
The OFT will highlight the opportunities and benefits of whistleblowing to a small company that finds itself involved in questionable market activities. According to the watchdog's Annual Plan, it is focusing in particular on companies operating in the healthcare, pharmaceuticals and construction industries, where it believes anticompetitive practices to be especially rife.
The campaign will involve talks and media alerts. The competition watchdog recently published a range of business friendly competition law guidelines on its website.