by Megan Darby
Small utilities could find it easier to challenge anti-competitive behaviour under proposals from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
The government is consulting on plans to introduce a fast track at the Competition Appeal Tribunal for small and medium-sized enterprises so that simple cases could be dealt with more quickly and cheaply.
It is also seeking to promote alternative dispute resolution, encourage collective actions and make sure private suits complement the public enforcement regime.
Andrew Hockley, partner at law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner, said the reforms would be felt particularly in the water sector, which is less liberalised.
“By making it easier and cheaper for classes of ‘victims’ to sue, the scale of the risk faced by the incumbents will grow,” he said .
Jerry Bryan, managing director of Albion Water, said the measures would “profoundly alter” the competitive environment. The regulator’s record on enforcement was “poor”, he added. “Ofwat has yet to send a strong signal … that anti-competitive behaviour doesn’t pay.”
Albion has spent more than a decade fighting Welsh Water over the “abusive” price the latter charged for a bulk supply to Shotton Mill. In October, Albion is due in court to sue for restitutionary damages of up to £4.5 million plus punitive damages.
This article first appeared in Utility Week’s print edition of 20 July 2012.
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