Sir Philip Green must make a “generous” contribution to the BHS pension fund and provide more detail on profits taken from the retailer while it was under his ownership, according to two influential groups of MPs.
The call from Iain Wright MP, chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, and Frank Field MP, chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, comes after they subjected the retail tycoon to a six-hour grilling yesterday on the collapse of BHS.
“We hope he will come up with an offer that is satisfactory to the Pensions Regulator. However, he doesn’t only have to satisfy the Pensions Regulator; he is before the bar of public opinion. Much of his reputation now depends on how generously he responds,” they said in a joint statement.
The BHS pension is nursing a £571m deficit.
The MPs added: “We first want to get much more detail on the structure of various companies, particularly those owned by Lady Christina Green [Sir Philip’s wife], the profits they have made and the tax they have paid. We have many further questions for Sir Philip, particularly the big questions on the pension fund that he was unable to answer yesterday.”
Yesterday’s joint parliamentary hearing was characterised by tense exchanges. Green was particularly unnerved by a line of questioning from MP Richard Graham, saying he was “beating me up”. At another point he told MPs: “What bit of ‘don’t remember’ do you find difficult to listen to?”
Green repeatedly deflected questions about the pension scheme, which is in talks to enter the pension protection fund. The tycoon said: “You’re asking me questions which are impossible to answer.”
Green emphasised that he’d had very little contact with the pension scheme trustees during his 15-year tenure at BHS.
“You can’t run a business of this size by yourself. I was not actively involved in pension conversations. Maybe if I had been, we wouldn’t be here,” he said, adding: “I’m not blaming anyone.”
Green said the pension was “resolvable, sortable”.
“The PPF have suggested that it might need as much as £275m,” says Hargreaves Lansdown’s head of retirement policy Tom McPhail.
“That’s a big ask and from his demeanour one might conclude that he is going to be reluctant to stick his hands that deeply in his pocket.”
Yesterday, Green said that Goldman Sachs, who were appointed as a “gatekeeper” to do a background check on Dominic Chappell, did not tell him not to do business with the serial bankrupt.
“One million per cent, we would not have done business with him, if they would have said: don’t deal with this guy. That is not the advice we got,” Green said, adding: “I don’t want to lay the blame at Goldman Sachs’ door.”
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