The Great Debate UK

from Breakingviews:

UK banks have much to fear from latest probe

By Chris Hughes

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

The latest competition review of UK banking should aim to be the last. An antitrust probe in 2000 led to limited price controls after concluding that British lenders made excess profit. There were two more big investigations after the financial crisis. Yet concerns about market inefficiencies persist. That suggests the Competition and Markets Authority should do something radical this time.

The CMA says it is minded to conduct a comprehensive investigation of UK banking later this year. The industry is at least as oligopolistic as it was 14 years ago. Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland have 77 percent of personal accounts and 85 percent of small-business banking.

So-called challenger banks have emerged from disposals by Lloyds and RBS as mandated by the European Commission. But the market has become more concentrated, especially in mortgages, after Lloyds swallowed Halifax and Bank of Scotland and several former building societies collapsed. Customer dissatisfaction is high. Yet just 4 percent of SME customers and 3 percent of personal customers switch accounts annually. The banks say things are already changing for the better. Twas ever thus.

Ofcom summons up courage to tackle BSkyB

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steve_barnett- Steven Barnett is professor of communications at the University of Westminster, and a writer and commentator on broadcasting issues.  His first book, published in 1990, was on the relationship between television and sport. The opinions expressed are his own.-

Today is a historic day for British television: the first time in its brief six-year history that the supposedly uber powerful Ofcom has been prepared to flex its muscles to tackle the brute force of BSkyB’s overwhelming dominance in pay television.

from Commentaries:

Orange squeezes the UK’s mobile competition

Merging T-Mobile UK with Orange will bring 3.5 billion pounds of value to shareholders, and "substantial benefits to UK customers." Goodness, why on earth didn't they get together years ago? A merger that simultaneously enriches shareholders and customers is rare indeed, and one to be treasured - if this really is one of those seldom-seen beasts.

While the 3.5 billion pound figure is credible, the second claim, from Timotheus Hottges, the finance director of Deutsche Telecom, T-Mobile's parent, is harder to believe. The immediate reaction from other shares in the sector rather gave the game away, with retailer Carphone Warehouse down on the prospect of fewer suppliers, and Vodafone up on the hope of less competition in Britain's mobile phone market.

Regulatory changes needed to end Heathrow hell

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- Rupert Darwall is a guest columnist. The views expressed are his own. A London-based strategist, he is author of Reluctant Managers, a study of Whitehall performance (KPMG, 2006) –

If April is the cruellest month, then July can be awful for people using Heathrow. Business travel is still humming and the holiday season is getting into full swing.

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