LORD Myners has ripped into Sir Philip Green over the collapse of BHS and reopened a decade-old feud between the pair over the tycoon’s failed Marks & Spencer takeover bid.
The Labour peer, who is advising a committee of MPs that will grill Sir Philip in the coming weeks over BHS’s demise, told BBC Radio 4: “Thank goodness he didn’t succeed [in taking over M&S]. If he had done, I don’t know what would have happened to M&S.”
Lord Myners, a former M&S chairman, is best known for fighting off a £9 billion bid for the retailer from Sir Philip in 2004. The feud reached its climax when Sir Philip accused Lord Myners of being an “anti-semitic left-winger”.
The former City minister is leading a team of financial experts helping MPs from the business and pensions select committees investigate Sir Philip’s role in the collapse of BHS, which will likely result in the loss of 11,000 jobs.
Sir Philip was also urged to waive tens of millions he could be set to get from BHS’s collapse. As a secured creditor to BHS, Sir Philip’s Arcadia stands to rake in up to £35 million from the wind-down, depending on how much can be gleaned from the property and stock.
“He could give up that security and make sure the money is used for the benefit of the employees and pensioners and not claim to be in the front of the queue,” Lord Myners said.
He also questioned the tycoon’s judgment in selling BHS to former bankrupt Dominic Chappell for £1, adding: “Sir Philip Green must take some of the responsibility, not least of all selling the business to Mr Dominic Chappell, which is rather like giving the keys of your car to a five-year-old, and then allowing the five-year-old to go off and crash the car.”
On Thursday, BHS’s administrator Duff & Phelps announced the business will be wound down and all 163 shops closed and sold off to other retailers after it failed to find a buyer.
It added that 8,000 permanent jobs are likely to be lost and another 3,000 not directly employed by BHS are also at risk.
Simon Walker, head of the Institute of Directors (IoD), also laid into Sir Philip on the same programme, accusing him of a “lamentable failure of behaviour”.
He said: “We spend a lot of time agonising about the loss of trust in the business community, and I think we can see why this is. I think there is a lamentable failure of behaviour and there are a lot of questions that need to be asked.”
“You can’t just get yourself off the hook by selling a business to someone who’s been bankrupt three times and is a former racing driver with no retail experience.”
BHS leaves behind a £571 million pensions black hole, with the scheme set to enter the Pension Protection Fund. The Pensions Regulator is investigating whether Sir Philip will be made to make contributions to the pension scheme.
Business Minister Anna Soubry said yesterday: “The Business Secretary has already announced an accelerated Insolvency Service investigation into the activity of former BHS directors. Any issues of misconduct will be taken extremely seriously.”
Yesterday’s news came just days after administrators for menswear retailer Austin Reed confirmed the closure of 120 stores, with the loss of 1,000 jobs.
Philip Duffy, managing director of administrators Duff & Phelps, said: “The British high street is changing and, in these turbulent times for retailers, BHS has fallen as another victim of the seismic shifts we are seeing. The tireless work and goodwill of the existing management team and employees of BHS with the support of my team were not enough to change the fortunes of the company.”
Richard Lim, chief executive of the Retail Economics research consultancy, described BHS’s collapse as a “devastating blow to the UK high street”.
He added: “This once iconic British retailer suffered from paralysis when it came to innovation and it failed to stem the loss of market share to other more agile multi-channel competitors.
“The business model was simply no longer fit for purpose and its product range failed to resonate with its core customer base. Following the collapse of Austin Reed, these recent events focus the mind on how many other traditional UK retailers are sleep-walking into administration.”
Originally known as British Home Stores, BHS left a £571m pensions black hole when it went into administration in April.
Rescue bids from former Mothercare boss Greg Tufnell and Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct both subsequently failed.
Duff & Phelps said BHS would be in “close-down sale mode” over the coming weeks as it proceeds with an “orderly wind-down” of the business. Restructuring firm Hilco has been tasked with helping to liquidate the store estate and stock. BHS’s branches in Yorkshire include shops in Leeds, Wakefield, Huddersfield, York, Doncaster and Rotherham.
Dave Gill, of shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw, said: “This news is a devastating blow for the staff and the shock waves will be felt on high streets throughout the country. There are some very serious questions that need to be answered, by former owners of the business, about how a company with decades of history and experience in retail has now come to this very sorry end.”