BHS inquiry chairman 'should resign'

Jessica TranterLast Update : Friday 6 May 2016 - 12:56 AM
BHS inquiry chairman 'should resign'

BHS inquiry chairman ‘should resign’

Sir Philip GreenImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption Sir Philip Green sold BHS last year

The former owner of BHS, Sir Philip Green, has called on the chairman of a Commons committee examining the collapse of the UK chain to resign.

Frank Field, of the Work and Pensions Committee, said in an interview he would recommend stripping Sir Philip of his knighthood if he did not repay £571m to the BHS pension fund.

Sir Philip said Mr Field should stand down “as he is clearly prejudiced”.

A committee source stressed Mr Field’s remarks were his own personal views.

Sir Philip said it was an “outrageous outburst”, adding: “I am horrified that Frank Field is prepared to make comments like this in public.”

In his first public comments on the collapse of BHS, Sir Philip said: “Clearly he has already made his decision as to what he feels the punishment should be without even hearing any evidence from anybody about BHS or the circumstances of the last 15 years.”

Sir Philip bought BHS in 2000 for £200m but sold it to Retail Acquisitions last year for £1.

He has faced criticism about his role after BHS went into administration last month, threatening thousands of jobs.

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‘Trial by media’

Sir Philip has agreed to appear before the Work and Pensions Committee and the Business Innovation and Skills Committee, chaired by Iain Wright, to answer questions about the collapse.

Earlier Sir Philip wrote to the two Commons committee chairmen asking for an end to his “trial by media”.

In the letter, Sir Philip said he wanted to record his concerns about various statements they had made to the press “for example, calling for me to lose my knighthood or suggesting that I have asset-stripped BHS without regard to pensions and employees.

“These statements suggest that you are leaping to conclusions before any evidence from any witness has been heard.

“They suggest that there will be no real attempt to run your inquiries in a fair way and that the outcome is pre-determined.”

Insolvency investigation

He added that witnesses would be less willing to provide voluntary assistance if the committee chairs did not act in a responsible way.

However, Mr Field’s remarks were made in a personal capacity to the Financial Times and have not been discussed officially by the two committees involved.

The BBC has not been able to reach Mr Wright for a comment.

In his letter, Sir Philip said he welcomed the opportunity to assist committees that were “genuinely intended to get to the truth in a fair and balanced way and on the basis of actual facts.”

On Wednesday, Business Secretary Sajid Javid ordered the Insolvency Service to investigate the collapse of BHS immediately.

Mr Javid said in a statement: “This investigation will look at the conduct of the directors at the time of insolvency and any individuals who were previously directors. Any issues of misconduct will be taken very seriously.”

Image copyright Getty Images

At the time of BHS’s sale last year, there were questions over the lack of retail experience of Dominic Chappell and his team at Retail Acquisitions, which became the majority shareholder of the department store.

A fortnight ago, the business fell into administration with debts of £1.3bn – including a pension deficit of £571m – putting 11,000 jobs at risk across 164 stores nationwide.

Sir Philip is believed to have offered to provide about £80m to help plug the pension deficit, but he has already faced accusations that he crashed BHS “into a cliff”, from Mr Wright.

Pensions questions

Ahead of Sir Philip’s appearance, the Work and Pensions Committee is due to hear from the Pensions Regulator and the Pension Protection Fund, BHS Pension Trustees, and Mr Chappell.

There is no suggestion that Sir Philip did anything illegal.

However, last week, the former chairman of Marks and Spencer, Lord Myners, told the BBC Sir Philip had big questions to answer over his stewardship of BHS.

Lord Myners said: “The big question is whether when Philip Green sold BHS to a group of individuals with no retail experience, led by a former mini racing car driver and twice bankrupt person… that the pension scheme had enough assets to meet its liabilities.”

Source: BBC Business

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