Pressure was mounting on Sir Philip Green last night after MPs called for the former BHS owner to be held to account over yesterday’s collapse of the 88-year-old high street chain, which he sold for just £1 last year after 15 years’ ownership.
BHS’ failure, which puts 10,000 jobs at risk, is also being investigated by the Pensions Regulator and the Insolvency Service.
Speaking to the House of Commons last night in response to a statement by business minister Anna Soubry, Labour’s shadow business secretary Angela Eagle asked whether Green should contribute to BHS’ £571m pension deficit given that much of it built up during his time at the helm.
“BHS staff and the public will understandably want to know whether the former owner who took so much money out of the business will have to pay his fair share in liabilities that he accrued during his ownership,” Eagle said.
Tory MP Richard Fuller added: “If that sale [in 2015] was done on the understanding that he was avoiding a responsibility for those pension losses, then that £1 was equivalent to 30 pieces of silver and is a betrayal of the employees and pensioners at BHS.”
Last year Green sold BHS to a consortium called Retail Acquisitions which is headed by Dominic Chappell, a former racing car driver. Yesterday Retail Acquisitions was forced to call in administrators after failing to raise emergency funding for BHS. The company, which has 164 stores, will continue to trade while a buyer is sought.
BHS’ £571m pension deficit is now in the process of being transferred to the Pension Protection Fund (PPF), the government-supported rescue agency.
However, the chance of the rescue body securing any money for its members lies with the Pensions Regulator, which confirmed it is launching a probe into the collapse of the chain.
The watchdog said the investigation will “determine whether it would be appropriate to use our anti-avoidance powers” which can lead to the regulator ultimately taking any employer it finds to be “deliberately attempting to avoid their pension obligations” to court.
In answer to several calls in parliament over whether Green will be held to account, Soubry said: “The Insolvency Service, which will now oversee the administration, will take very seriously any allegations of any misconduct by any of the directors of the business and indeed any improprieties.”
A spokesperson for the Insolvency Service said it could “neither confirm nor deny whether there is a live investigation” adding: “In any case where there is an insolvency we have a duty to investigate.”
Green declined to comment last night.