08 Feb 2012

(by Bruce Lyons) We do not usually publish obituaries on this blog, but we have made an exception for an ‘unsung hero’ of the economic approach in UK competition policy – Denys Gribbin. I first met him when I was a PhD student. Denys had already been the first Chief Economist at the OFT and had moved through other influential positions to the MMC. I can affirm that he was enormously friendly to starting young economists and always encouraging us to apply industrial economics to cases and practical policy. The following appreciation is by David Elliott.

Denys Gribbin


5th October1926 – 14th December 2011

(by David Elliott) Born in Liverpool, his first job was as an engineering apprentice in the dockyards. Following WWII he obtained an Economics degree. Subsequently he worked with a team of statisticians at Unilever and as company secretary at Northern Dairies.

In 1966 Denys joined a team of four economists at the Board of Trade (BOT), forerunner to the Department for Industry. There he displayed two characteristics that typified him. Firstly, he always sought new opportunities to provide economic advice. Secondly he would persuade senior officials that economic analysis was important enough for resources to be made available. In both respects, Denys was remarkably successful. He played a key role in how economics took a grip on the BOT, such that by 1970/71, economics had moved into almost every area of policy.

At the BOT Denys was involved in the drafting of the Fair Trading Act and he became the first chief economist at the new Office of Fair Trading (OFT) in 1973. Again he had to carve out a role for the economists which he did very successfully. At the OFT he studied the early development of UK competition policy and the significance of cartels in the 1950s. Denys was delighted to discover the important role that economists had played in that development during 1943 – 1948. In 1977 he joined the Price Commission (PC). Here he established economics as the driving force for its decision making with his customary professionalism, integrity, and rigour. When the PC closed, Denys typically thought of his team first and ensured they all found posts, mainly in the Monopolies and Mergers Commission (MMC), which he also joined. Here again his talents for working hard, mastering the detail and use of factual information, proved invaluable in enhancing the MMC’s reputation. He retired from the Civil Service in 1986.

Denys was a very influential figure in the development of UK competition policy. In the BOT, OFT, PC and the MMC, he left his mark on how to do the job correctly, albeit on occasion at the expense of personal advancement. His integrity and rigour were second to none. Equally he was important in establishing the role of economic advice. He believed in this passionately and always sought to widen the role that economists played. He always fully supported his team and this trust and respect were reciprocated. He liked to give his economists freedom to see where a piece of work went and then see how he could utilise it. He was proactive, undertaking the empirical analysis in anticipation of a policy issue arising and demonstrating how economists could influence the policy debate. Quietly spoken, yet determined, he was a true leader in every sense of the word.

Professionally, Denys will be remembered for his work on uncovering the role that economists contributed to the early development of UK Competition Policy. It is typical that he never sought to publicise his own very significant role in its later development.