Sir Philip Green has continued his public defence of his reputation ahead of a vote in parliament on his knighthood on Thursday, telling ITV he is “very, very, very sorry” for the collapse of BHS and insisting “there’s no running away” from the pension issue.
Green sat down for an interview with ITV’s Robert Peston, broadcast on Tuesday night. Green told Peston he is “very, very, very sorry I am for all the hardship and sort of sadness caused to all the people who worked there, and all the pensioners.”
The retail billionaire told ITV: “Unfortunately, lots of sad circumstances occurred… I can honestly say that I and my team did everything possible to not have the business go into receivership, administration.”
Sir Philip Green bought BHS in 2000 for £200 million ($244.9 million). He sold it for £1 in 2015 and the department store collapsed into administration in April of this year. BHS had been struggling for years and a government report into its collapse blames under-investment and excessive dividend payouts for sending it into a downward spiral.
The ITV interview is the second effort by Green to repair his battered reputation ahead of a non-binding vote by MPs on whether to strip him of his knighthood on Thursday. On Tuesday, Green released a lawyers’ review of the parliamentary report into the collapse of BHS, which attacked parts of it as “bizarre” and “unsupportable.” The report had accused Green of “systematic plunder of BHS.”
In his ITV interview, Green accused the MPs’ committee of “bullying” him and said MPs are “all hiding behind parliamentary privilege.”
I am very, very, very sorry I am for all the hardship and sort of sadness caused to all the people who worked there
Addressing the issue of dividends taken out of the business, which fuelled MPs accusations of plunder, Green insisted he had put more into the business than he had taken out. Green and his family received £307 million in dividends from BHS during the early years of his ownership but Green insists he invested around £600 million.
“Nobody can be a clairvoyant,” he said of the dividends. “We put back significantly more than we took out.”
Green defended the decision to sell BHS for £1 to Dominic Chappell, a twice bankrupt former racing driver with no prior retail experience. He told Peston: “This conversation about you ‘don’t know’ about the business, well most venture capitalists buying companies and backing management and doing deals don’t know anything about the business.”
BHS has an estimated £275 million black hole in its pension scheme when the department store collapsed and Green insisted he is still working on a solution to the problem, saying he is trying to reach a deal that won’t require any help from the state-backed Pension Protection Fund, dubbed the “Pensions’ Lifeboat.”
Green said: “The commitment I made at the Select Committee stands. I said I would do my best to find a solution and that’s what we continue to do. We’ve had a team of advisers working on this virtually every day.”
“If we arrive at the place where we hope to arrive, there will be no requirement for the Pension Protection Fund.”
Green described dealing with the pension problem as “misery” and said: “For the last year and on a daily basis I, and my family, have got to live with this horrid decision and trust me these are not fun days I’ve been doing this, as you said, a very, very, very, long time and sadly it’s all suddenly sort of squeezed into, you know, the only thing in the world is BHS.”
Green also revealed that he had a heart operation just 6 days before appearing at the parliamentary inquiry into the collapse of BHS.