A CLEANING giant has been ordered to sell off a Bury chemicals firm, following a merger, on competition grounds.

An inquiry by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has found that the link-up between Ecolab and Holchem would swamp the market for food and drink industry cleaning products.

Ecolab and Holchem announced they were merging last November but this triggered an investigation by the CMA which has now reported back.

The watchdog has ruled that the partnership would reduce choice for customers and raise the possibility of higher prices or a lower quality of service.

Kirstin Baker, the inquiry chairman, said: "We have carried out a thorough investigation analysing a large amount of data from the companies as well as evidence collected from both customers and competitors.

"We concluded that these two companies compete closely and this deal could have very serious effects – prices could go up or quality standards in crucial support services could get worse.

Having carefully considered how these issues could be resolved, we decided that only blocking the merger and requiring Ecolab to sell Holchem would address our concerns."

The decision has been criticised by bosses at Ecolab, who maintain that the move for the Pilsworth-based firm would instead drive innovation and in fact improve levels of customer service.

In a statement, Douglas M Baker Jr, their chairman and chief executive, said: "We strongly believe that the UK market would remain highly competitive following the merger and are disappointed with the CMA’s findings.

"We are reviewing the full report provided by the CMA in detail and will carefully consider our options and next steps."

The ruling can be appealed within 28 days of it being officially issued.