Sir Philip Green, the retail billionaire who sold off BHS for £1 last year before its collapse, is set to be grilled by not one but two sets of MPs over the sale of the business.
The Independent reports that both the Work and Pensions Select Committee and the Business Innovations and Skills Select Committee have written to the Arcadia Group owner to appear before “a joint session of both committees” — a highly unusual event.
The Work and Pensions Select Committee is holding an inquiry into BHS’ £571 million pension deficit, trying to work out how well protected or not it was prior to its sale last year. The BIS Select Committee is looking into the sale and acquisition of BHS and how fit and proper that was.
BHS was sold for a nominal sum of £1 last year to a former racing car driver who has twice been declared bankrupt. The 88-year-old High Street retailer collapsed into administration last week, putting 11,000 jobs at risk.
Sir Philip, who also owns Topshop and Dorothy Perkins among others, bought BHS for £200 million in 2000 and reaped more than £400 million in dividends from the retailer as it ran up a £571 million pension plan deficit and debts of £1.3 billion.
Sir Philip is likely to face a tough grilling over his stewardship of the company. Tory MP Richard Fuller has called Green the “unacceptable face of capitalism” in a commons debate and Green is facing calls from Labour MP John Mann to give up his Knighthood unless he pays back the £400 million in dividends he took out of BHS.
Ian Wright MP, the chairman of the House of Commons business select committee, also made some incredibly punchy comments to Radio 4’s Today programme:
We are keen to find out who knew what, when. This issue over the sale and acquisition of BHS raises enormous questions.
The question that we want to ask Sir Philip Green is, ‘You bought BHS, took enormous sums out of the business, the pension scheme went from surplus to deficit and then you sold it for a pound to somebody who was twice bankrupt and who had no experience whatsoever of the retail sector — is that appropriate stewardship of a big, important company?’
So it’s a case of ‘is it right that people can buy a company, strip it, in many respects, of cash in terms of dividends without real regard to pensions or to employees and then sell it for a pound to untried and untested people who then crash it into a cliff?’
As well as Sir Philip, the committees have called his wife Tina, the ultimate owner of Arcadia Group, Dominic Chappell, who bought BHS, a top Goldman Sachs executive who advised on the sale, and several former BHS executives, according to the Telegraph. The Telegraph also reports that Arcadia’s chair Lord Grabiner, a former Barrister turned Labour peer who is a non-executive director at Goldman Sachs, will also be summoned.
BI has contacted Arcadia Group, Sir Philip’s representatives, for comment and will update when we hear back.