Is Sir Philip Green being unfairly criticised over the collapse of BHS – and its £571m pensions black hole?

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The billionaire has faced calls for his knighthood to be taken away (Source: Getty)

Tim Worstall, senior fellow of the Adam Smith Institute, says Yes.

It’s not difficult to believe that Sir Philip Green is being unfairly treated over the BHS saga.

The unedifying sight of the British establishment sneering at the loudmouth Jew in the clothing trade is an unwelcome return to social habits we rather hoped we had put behind us.

The precise details of the pensions hole and who should fill it are rightly the province of the Pension Protection Fund and, if it should be the Greens, then no doubt it will say so.

But it’s worth noting that the hole came about as a result of the market collapse in 2008 – it was deemed in surplus until then. It’s difficult to blame the clothing trade for that, however loudmouthed the practitioner.

As to it all having happened because dividends were taken out of the business: how much tax was taken over the same time period? Money leaving the business is money leaving the business, so if one is to be blamed, why isn’t the other also? And those dividends which were paid will have paid corporation tax first.

So is George Osborne, or the Treasury, to chip into that pensions hole as well? To return the tax paid?

Rachel Cunliffe, deputy editor of CapX, says No.

BHS was not just mismanaged under Philip Green. It was loaded with debt, then sold off to a company which stripped any remaining value.

This is not “capitalism as usual”. In a market system, individuals are rewarded for their success. Companies that cannot remain competitive collapse. It is a sad but necessary part of the process. When they collapse, their owners lose money.

In contrast, Green’s wife received £400m in dividends as the value of BHS plummeted from £200m when he bought it to £1 in 2015. Meanwhile, the pension fund went from a surplus to a £571m deficit. Green’s offer to put £80m back into the pot is a feeble attempt to disguise his shameless self-interest.

It is an insult to the staff and taxpayers who have been saddled with the remaining £491m shortfall. To argue that Green should pay for his recklessness is not just the grumbling of the envious. Anyone who values healthy capitalism should be furious that the system has failed. And we are.

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