THREE ROLLED LEAD companies have been named by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) which it suspects of forming a cartel to fix lead prices, share out customers, exchange commercially sensitive information and restrict supply of rolled lead to another company wanting to enter the market.
The CMA’s investigation into roofing materials, which started in July 2017, has provisionally found that the UK’s three principal suppliers of rolled lead broke competition law.
The companies are:
- Associated Lead Mills Ltd, which has its headquarters in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, and its sister company Jamestown Metals Limited
- J. Enthoven Ltd (trading as BLM British Lead, which has its headquarters in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire) and its parent company Eco-Bat Technologies Limited
- Calder Industrial Materials Ltd, and its parent company Calder Group Holdings Limited, headquartered in Chester, Cheshire.
The three companies together account for about 90% of the rolled lead market. Rolled lead is an important, high-value product for the construction industry, used for waterproofing roofs, including churches and historic buildings, as well as flashing on domestic properties.
Paul Walters, Sales and Marketing Director at Associated Lead Mills (and former Commercial Director of Calder Industrial Materials Limited from 1994 to 2015) said, “The matter is currently with our solicitors and I am unable to comment.”
The CMA has issued a ‘Statement of Objections’ (SO) which details the provisional findings of its investigations. Martin Armour, Commercial Director at Calder Lead commented: “The Calder Group denies any wrongdoing and welcomes the opportunity to respond in full to the CMA’s provisional views as set out in the SO.”
Lead Sheet Association
The rolled lead cartel companies are all former members of the Lead Sheet Association, which, after nine decades in existence, dissolved in March 2018 leaving its training arm to continue as the Lead Sheet Training Academy.
Stephen Reynolds, former National Specification Manager of the Lead Sheet Association (now Head of Membership at the National Federation of Roofing Contractors said, “I was unaware of any cartel because I was not involved in sales. I was not party to any of these types of negotiations and I was nothing to do with the acquisition or allocation of any product.”
Cartel investigations are typically started by the CMA when the organisation is alerted to a restrictive market by a company who has been excluded from entering that market or feels it has been unfairly undercut on contract tenders.
Lynn Street, Marketing and Sales Manager at Midland Lead, manufacturers of cast lead, comments: “We are a family-run business making cast lead and have never been part of the Lead Sheet Association and we operate in an ethical manner.”
Asked about the wider implications of the CMA report for UK roofing lead, Lynn added: “I’m worried about the detrimental effect on the market as a whole and that we’ll be tarnished by the CMA’s investigation.”
The CMA alleges that the cartel:
- colluded on prices
- exchanged commercially sensitive information
- refrained from targeting some of each other’s customers
- collectively refused to supply another company whose business threatened to disrupt the market sharing arrangement
Michael Grenfell, the CMA’s Executive Director for Enforcement, said: “The CMA’s findings are, at this stage in its investigation, provisional and do not necessarily lead to a decision that the companies have breached competition law. The firms now have the opportunity to consider the detail of the CMA’s provisional findings and respond to it. The CMA will carefully consider any representations made before issuing its final findings as to whether the law has been broken.”
Any business found to have broken competition law can be fined up to 10% of its annual worldwide group turnover.