The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has provisionally concluded two NHS suppliers of cleanroom laundry services have created a market-sharing agreement, breaking competition law.
The CMA found between May 2012 to February 2016, the suppliers, Micronclean Limited and Berendsen Cleanroom Services Limited, had an arrangement under which they divided up customers by geographical territory, as well as by customer type.
Both firms will have a chance to have their say, before the CMA determines whether they have indeed broken competition law.
Cleanroom laundry services are for sterile environments like NHS pharmacies and medical manufacturers, where customers wear specialist garments that need to be laundered in a way that stops particulates contaminating their working environment.
Ann Pope, CMA senior director of antitrust enforcement, said: "We allege that even though these two companies could have supplied all relevant types of customer, including customers outside each party’s designated area, they instead agreed not to compete.
"These are provisional findings only and no conclusion can be drawn at this stage that there has been a breach of competition law. We will carefully consider any representations from the parties before deciding whether the law has been broken."
They operated a joint venture where both provided services and products under the Micronclean brand and had been trading under the name since the 1980s.
The market-sharing arrangement the CMA has flagged arose from trademark licence agreements which ran from 30 May 2012 until they were terminated on 3 February last year, when the related joint venture was disbanded.
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The competition regulator provisionally found that under the arrangement, Fenland served customers in an area north of a line (broadly between the capital and Anglesey), while Berendsen Newbury served customers located south of that line.
As a result, the set-up prevented each firm from supplying people located outside of said designated area and/or certain types of customers.
“Micronclean is disappointed that the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has decided to continue its investigation into cleanroom laundry services," said the company in a statement.
Unfortunately due to the ongoing nature of the investigation by the CMA we will not be able to answer any specific queries until the case has been concluded.
However, Micronclean is committed to complying with the law and regulations and has been co-operating fully with the CMA’s investigation. Micronclean believes it has been providing, and will continue to provide, a high quality, competitive service to its customers.
Berendsen has also been approached for comment.