Sir Philip Green is ‘trying to find a solution’ to pensions crisis

Former BHS boss Sir Philip Green, whose knighthood is being reviewed in the wake of the store chain's collapse
Former BHS boss Sir Philip Green, whose knighthood is being reviewed in the wake of the store chain's collapse
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Ex-BHS boss Sir Philip Green has insisted he is “trying to find a solution” for the collapsed firm’s pension fund and apologised to staff caught up in the “horrid story”.

He acknowledged that selling the high street chain to Dominic Chappell’s Retail Acquisitions firm was “a very bad choice” and he felt “badly let down”.

But he lashed out at the parliamentary committees which produced a damning report into the collapse of the firm, insisting that it was a “predetermined and inaccurate output of a biased and unfair process”.

Downing Street said the report produced by the MPs was “clearly concerning” and Prime Minister Theresa May would “lean lessons for the future” from the committees’ inquiry.

Meanwhile, Sir Philip is “much worse” than Robert Maxwell, a senior MP has said after an inquiry blamed the former BHS boss for the collapsed store group’s problems.

Labour’s Frank Field, chairman of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, also described Sir Philip as a “Napoleon figure” floating around on his yacht after having “orchestrated” an “old-fashioned classical asset-stripping” which has put the jobs of 11,000 BHS workers at risk and left 22,000 pensioners with a risky future.

A BHS store displaying 'store closing' signs and posters.

A BHS store displaying 'store closing' signs and posters.

Sir Philip - labelled the “unacceptable face of capitalism” - is facing mounting pressure to rectify the pension fund black hole and lose his knighthood after an excoriating joint report by Mr Field’s committee with the Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Committee.

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The two Commons select committees accused the entrepreneur of seeking to blame anyone but himself for the firm’s failure and said he has a “moral duty” to make a “large financial contribution” to the 20,000 pensioners facing substantial cuts to their benefits.

While the committees were damning about Dominic Chappell, who bought BHS for £1, and the “directors, advisers and hangers-on” associated with the deal, they said ultimate responsibility lay with Sir Philip.

The permatanned king of retail has seen his reputation - and potentially his knighthood - left in tatters by the collapse of BHS.

A bold, brash wheeler-dealer, he has amassed along with his wife, Lady Tina, a fortune that currently stands at £3.22 billion, according to the Sunday Times Rich List.

The vast majority of that fortune comes from the Arcadia retail empire, which he bought in 2002 and which controls brands including Topshop, Topman, Burton, Dorothy Perkins and Miss Selfridge.

That empire has allowed them to live life in the fast lane, a world of superyachts, apartments in Monaco and friendships with the likes of supermodel Kate Moss.

But it is BHS, which he bought in 2000, that has seen Sir Philip in the news - and in front of MPs - in recent months.

Its collapse in April left 11,000 people out of work and a £571 million black hole in its pensions fund.

The Topshop tycoon has come under fire for taking £400 million in dividends from BHS before selling the massively indebted firm for £1 in 2015 to Mr Chappell, who had no previous retail experience and had been declared bankrupt twice.

Although his family had accrued “incredible wealth” from their early, profitable years of owning BHS - while paying little in tax - Sir Philip had failed to invest in the company and refused to address the “substantial and unsustainable deficit” in the pension fund.

The committees said it was “inconceivable” that Sir Philip had not realised Mr Chappell was a “manifestly unsuitable” buyer and that he had “acted to conceal the true state of the BHS pension problem” from him.

The report - among the most scathing ever issued by a Commons committee - comes just days after the Cabinet Office disclosed that it was reviewing Sir Philip’s knighthood.

Mr Field, co-chair of the inquiry, insisted Sir Philip’s actions were worse than those of media mogul Mr Maxwell, who raided the pension pot of the Mirror Group newspaper business.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “(Sir Philip’s) much worse. I never thought Maxwell ... he was just borrowing money all over the place.

“This person has plundered BHS and Arcadia. The Arcadia group of companies - their pension scheme is now also in deficit.

“Money beyond the dreams of avarice have gone up to the Green family and 11,000 workers are now going to hit the dole queues, 22,000 pensioners are actually suffering cuts.

“I think that is worse because he has it in his power to do things.

“Maxwell didn’t have it in his power. The music stopped while there was no money there.”

When Sir Philip acquired BHS in 2000 for £200 million, the report said the company pension schemes were in surplus, but the high level of dividends paid out - more than double the after-tax profits of £208 million between 2002-04 - had left it weakened.

Although he had been aware of the growing problem with the pension fund, he had resisted calls to deal with it, primarily because he did not want to reveal details of his past business dealings to the Pensions Regulator.

Faced with consistent losses, Sir Philip struggled to find a buyer for the company - in part because of the hole in the pension fund. Having rejected Paul Sutton - “a fraudster and a bankrupt” - he settled on his junior business associate, Mr Chappell.

In order to push the deal through, the committee said that regulatory concerns had been “circumvented”, advisers were “heavily incentivised” to make progress while background checks proved “inadequate”.

The deal was completed on March 11 2015 and 13 months later, on April 26 2016, BHS went into administration leaving 11,000 employees facing an uncertain future.

Mr Chappell, described in the report as being “out of his depth” and “over-optimistic to the point of arrogance”, was accused by the committees of having “had his hands in the till”, paying “lavish” rewards to himself and his associates while the company foundered.

The committees were scathing about the way the participants had each sought to blame each other, saying that at times their inquiry had resembled a “circular firing squad” with Sir Philip the “worst example”.

Labour MP Iain Wright, chairman of the BIS committee, said Sir Philip needs to “write a big cheque” to sort out the “enormous” pension deficit.

Appearing on the BBC Two Victoria Derbyshire programme, Mr Wright said of the entrepreneur: “I think his reputation is in tatters.

“I think his reputation matters to him but I think it just lies in the ruins of BHS now. I think it’s going to be very difficult for him to do anything to salvage that reputation.”

A Government spokesman said the report highlighted the need “to tackle corporate irresponsibility and reform capitalism”.

David Gill, national officer of the shopworkers’ union Usdaw, said: “The consequences of actions by a handful of people in the running of BHS are now being felt by the 11,000 hard-working, dedicated and loyal staff.”

• The term “unacceptable face of capitalism” was coined by former PM Edward Heath in 1973 on the so-called Lonrho affair, in which it was alleged that sanctions against Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) were flouted.