'A billionaire spiv': MPs savage Sir Philip Green in knighthood debate

Philip greenParliament TV/Handout via REUTERSRetailer Philip Green speaks before Parliament’s business select committee on the collapse of British Home Stores which he used to own, in London, Britain June 15, 2016.

Backbench MPs called Sir Philip Green a “billionaire spiv” who cried “crocodile tears” over his role in the collapse of BHS during a debate on whether the retail tycoon should be stripped of his knighthood.

Conservative MP Iain Wright, who co-chaired the parliamentary inquiry into the BHS collapse, launched the most explosive verbal attack on Sir Philip, saying: “He took the rings from BHS’ fingers, he beat it black and blue, he starved it of food and water, he put it on life support and then wanted credit for keeping it alive.”

Wright accused Sir Philip Green of “engorg[ing] on BHS to the tune of millions of pounds” to “enrich himself, his family, and his friends, at the expense of long-term and sustainable growth for the company.”

“Certainly profits were made [at BHS] but they were more akin to a short-term sugar boost than a nutritious diet that aided the longterm health and strength of the business,” Wright told the House of Commons.

He accused Green of overseeing a “dip-dip” decline of the chain and said: “Upon taking over the company he was able to cut costs, an achievement that should not be dismissed, but he was never able to boost turnover. So much for the King of Retail.” Wright said the title was better applied to Zara founder Amancio Ortega and John Lewis chairman Charlie Mayfield.

Wright said Sir Philip ran BHS as a “personal fiefdom or a massive piggy bank,” and called the collapse of the department store “one of the biggest corporate scandals of modern times.”

Sir Philip Green declined to comment on the debate through a representative.

During Thursday’s debate, Labour MP Frank Field, the other co-chair of the parliamentary inquiry, likened the collapse to a “Greek tragedy” and dubbed Sir Philip “a very successful traditional asset stripper.”

The comments were made during a backbench debate in the House of Commons on whether Sir Philip should be stripped of his knighthood.

Richard Fuller MP, who served on the inquiry, told the house: “Were the actions of Sir Philip Green honourable? That is pertinent because he received his honour for services to retail…. Honour has to mean something in the behaviour of our businesses.”

MPs also attacked advisors on the deal and corporate governance at Taveta Investments, the Green family company that ultimately owned BHS. Wright said that Taveta chair Lord Grabiner was “truly hopeless” in scrutinizing the sale of BHS to twice bankrupt former racing driver Dominic Chappell for £1.

MPs will hold a non-binding vote on whether Sir Philip should be stripped of his knighthood, awarded for services to retail, around 2.30 p.m. BST (9.30 a.m. ET).

Sir Philip Green bought BHS in 2000 for £200 million ($244.9 million) and took over £300 million in dividends out of the business shortly afterwards. 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.

Sir Philip has this week mounted a public relations campaign to defend his reputation. The retail billionaire commissioned lawyers to attack the parliamentary report into the collapse and gave a contrite TV interview. The BBC reports on Thursday that Green is also set to meet with The Pensions Regulator at the end of the week as part of his efforts to “sort” the estimated £275 million black hole in the BHS pension fund.

Earlier on Thursday also attacked Frank Field MP for what he called “highly defamatory and false” statements made to Channel 4 News on Wednesday evening.

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