The OFT has referred the completed acquisition by Tesco plc (Tesco) of a former Co-operative Group (Co-op) one-stop grocery store on Uxbridge Road, Slough, to the CC. This comes over three years after the original reference decision of February 2004. During that time, the OFT's duty to refer the transaction had been suspended while the OFT sought to agree a clear-cut remedy with Tesco, which has not proved possible.
From the outset, Tesco had proposed an undertaking to transfer the Co-op site to a suitable one-stop rival, which would have restored grocery competition and consumer choice in Slough to their pre-merger levels. A series of planning issues outside Tesco's control delayed matters until in March 2006, when consent for redevelopment of the Co-op site was granted. At that stage, the key outstanding issue was the identification of a suitable purchaser.
Tesco thereafter reassured the OFT at various times that it was actively marketing the site and confident of finding a purchaser. By January 2007, however, the OFT had serious concerns and called a meeting with Tesco. At that meeting, Tesco could not name a credible candidate purchaser. The OFT therefore set a final deadline for Tesco to propose suitable up-front purchasers as part of a final effort to deliver a solution without a full CC inquiry.
This deadline has now passed. As Tesco has been unable to propose a remedy for the site that is 'clear-cut and capable of ready implementation' - the standard applied by the OFT to suspend its duty to refer - the OFT's duty to refer is re-engaged and the CC will explore the issues raised by this matter afresh. The CC is expected to report by 3 October 2007.