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Business committee chair questions CMA investigative takeover powers

It follows the recent purchase of Asda using ‘significant amounts’ of debt and the increased interest from private equity companies in British supermarkets

The chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, Darren Jones, has written to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in relation to their powers to investigate takeovers.

It follows the recent purchase of Asda using “significant amounts” of debt and the increased interest from private equity companies in British supermarkets.

The letter questions the “scope of regulatory powers” that the CMA has to investigate such matters following the recent takeover bid by a US private equity firm, Clayton, Dubilier and Rice, for supermarket Morrisons.

In the letter, Jones expressed his concern that given previous “highly leveraged” purchases of high street brands, which have resulted in administration, job losses and pension fund shortfalls, regulatory bodies have “insufficient” oversight or powers to intervene when new owners act “irresponsibly”.

He asked Dr Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA to set out which (if any) issues here merit further consideration by the authority and asked if the group could also advise what powers they currently have to deal with such issues, and/ or identify what new powers they think “ought to be considered” so that these issues can be addressed.

Jones said: “British supermarkets are the latest area of interest for private equity and other buyers using significant amounts of debt. Some stakeholders have raised concerns about what this might mean for the protection of jobs, pension funds and supermarkets presence on British high streets.

“Whilst activity levels are currently low, I am keen to understand what regulatory oversight is in place to ensure any future transactions protect consumers and workers.”

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