Outlook: Milk Marque

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The Independent Online
STEPHEN BYERS is as sensible and considered a politician as they come. So when he became Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, it was no surprise to find him allied with that growing body of opinion that believes competition policy and decision making should be taken away from the politicians and invested in an independent authority free from vested interest and interference - much like monetary policy already is.

Given this view, you would expect Mr Byers to go along with the findings and suggested remedies of existing competition authorities. With the MMC's report on Sky's bid for Manchester United, he hardly wavered, but that was an easy one. The unambiguous nature of the MMC's findings allowed him to make a "man of the people" decision while at the same time saying to Rupert Murdoch, "What could I do? They gave me no choice".

Nor too did the MMC leave much room for choice in its door stopper of a report on Milk Marque, or "a report on the supply in Great Britain of raw cows' milk", as it eloquently describes itself. This lists a stream of monopolist abuse by those loveable dairy farmers as long as your arm, and rightly recommends the co-operative under which they operate, Milk Marque, should be constrained and broken up.

No wonder the report has been sitting in My Byers' in-tray for so long. This is about as awkward a finding as they come, guaranteed as it is further to alienate the farming community from the nasty townies who decide these things. Perhaps understandably Mr Byers has ducked the decision and sent the ball scurrying off into the long grass. Politically this may have been the wise thing to do, but it doesn't say much for the chances of an independent competition authority. Plus ca change.

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