The pensions mess at collapsed retailer BHS is “sad”, and former owner Sir Philip Green is going to “sort” it. The billionaire Monaco-based retail baron is nothing if not succinct.
The vigorous brevity to MPs from the Business and Pensions committees may have partially cheered the 20,000 former and current workers in the BHS pension scheme.
But, unfortunately, details of how the £571 million hole in the scheme was “resolvable” and “sortable” were scarce. Meanwhile, Sir Philip’s demeanour before the MPs was an oxymoronic combination of contrition and irritation.
He at one stage accused one Tory MP, Richard Fuller, of eyeballing him. Spilling of anyone’s pint was not exactly mentioned, but you get the picture.
To be fair to Fuller, Green, a robust character, may have also been disenchanted if the MP, instead of giving it the stare during the hearing, had studiedly played Candy Crush on his mobile instead.
It emerged that Green had little to do with BHS’s pension trustees, but took the blame for the state of the pension scheme. He still felt there would be a better outcome for pensioners from a plan he and advisors Deloitte were working on than any compensation from the Pension Protection Fund, the levy-funded UK lifeboat scheme that helps finance pensions after company insolvencies.
As the lengthy hearing twisted and turned, the business magnate was unapologetic about the £400 million in dividends he took out of BHS during his 15 year ownership, claiming he had pumped more than that in.
But he put his hand up: the sale of the retailer for £1 to serial bankrupt Dominic Chappell last year was an unequivocal mistake. Apparently, Green was taken in by the fake polish on the Chappell escutcheon provided by the latter’s advisers, accountancy group Grant Thornton and law firm Olswang.
“Unfortunately we found the wrong guy. Would I do the deal again? No.” The joint chairmen of the committees had it about right in a statement that said further parliamentary investigation was necessary and that the former BHS owner remains “before the bar of public opinion”.
The verdict delivered will be in how generously he responds. Or, remaining with the vernacular, what he coughs up.