A pensions Green deal that needs energy to understand

Mark Kleinman
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Philip Green Announces Surge In Arcadia Group Profits
Sir Philip Green has honoured his pledge to offer the 19,000 members superior benefits to those available through the Pension Protection Fund (Source: Getty)

The Green deal: a government-sponsored scheme eventually discarded after failing to adequately explain its benefits and providing poor value to participants.

I’m referring, of course, to a Tory-Lib Dem coalition energy-efficiency programme, but is it a description which applies equally well to Sir Philip Green’s £363m settlement with regulators over the pension crisis at BHS?

On the face of it, no. The tycoon has honoured his pledge to offer the 19,000 members superior benefits to those available through the Pension Protection Fund.

Read more: So how did Sir Philip end up paying £363m? Key episodes in the BHS box set

Not only that: Green’s settlement represents an important milestone for “zombie” pension schemes without a corporate sponsor – which, handily, the PPF has just paved the way to introduce more widely.

And while it may have been the result of extreme political and regulatory duress, it would be churlish not to acknowledge that this week’s deal is a long way from the initially pitiful £80m offer he proposed to the pension trustees less than a year ago.

That’s a low bar, though. You don’t have to dig very far into the detail of The Pensions Regulator’s agreement with Green to see that the biggest beneficiaries are those at the wealthier end of the BHS pay scale.

Read more: BHS pension scheme: What happens next?

The removal of a cap on their retirement income will still feel like a kick in the teeth to thousands of lower-income workers who will receive lower inflation-based increases than those provided by a BHS that had remained afloat.

That’s not necessarily Green’s fault. He promised to sort the scheme, and he has.

But it would be interesting to note whether legal advice provided to the regulator felt there was a decent chance of squeezing any more out of a billionaire whose efforts to salvage his reputation might still require a pair of armbands.

Is the BP AGM well-timed?

If timing is everything, it’s no accident that BP, typically one of the first of Britain’s corporate elite to stage its annual general meeting, has shifted it back by a month this year.

The humiliating revolt in 2016 over Bob Dudley’s pay award must’ve been uppermost in the company’s mind when it made a decision to delay its AGM until the middle of May.

Read more: Row over BP boss Bob Dudley's pay ramps up

By then, the broader temperature of corporate Britain will be much clearer – but the early skirmishes of this year’s AGM season suggest the oil company might not enjoy a smoother ride.

To recap: BP directors led by Dame Professor Ann Dowling, the remuneration committee chair, have proposed reducing the maximum long-term share award to executive directors from a multiple of seven times salary to six, and now five-and-a-half.

Even this lower figure is insufficient for some investors, who believe the board showed remarkable crassness in delivering a bumper pay rise to Dudley even as BP – and shareholders ­– bore the remaining costs of the Gulf of Mexico spill and the weak oil price.

Read more: Pay revolt grows after Dudley gets a bloody nose

As the director responsible for the decision, Dowling has been disappointingly reticent by way of public justification.

So here’s an idea for her and her committee colleagues: they should commit in its annual report to resigning from the BP board if the company’s pay policy attracts meaningful opposition at the AGM.

Read more: BP has dropped its break-even oil price target to $35-40 a barrel

Fidelity Investments argued recently that remco chairs should quit if they fail to secure 75 per cent support for pay reports.

In BP’s case, applying it to the whole committee (for one year only) would be a more appropriate way of holding their feet to the fire.

Knickers in a twist

Mike Ashley, according to one associate yesterday, has “always wanted to get into women’s knickers”.

After buying Agent Provocateur, he has got his wish. But he wasn’t only battling a Lion (Capital). I’m told he also faced a rival bid from Quadro Capital, an investment firm led by Giedrius Pukas, an experienced retail investor.

Read more: Sports Direct's Mike Ashley lands Agent Provocateur deal

Quadro, I’m told, offered £35m with a pledge to plough £30m more into the company – while retaining its head office and workforce.

Perhaps, like Agent Provocateur’s products, there wasn’t enough elastic to stretch the auction any longer.

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