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BHS administration threatens 11,000 jobs and 164 stores

Published 25/04/2016

High street retailer BHS has collapsed into administration, putting 11,000 jobs at risk and threatening the closure of up to 164 stores.

It is the biggest retail failure since Woolworths went bust in 2008.

Administrators Duff & Phelps said last-ditch talks to find a buyer for the firm over the weekend had failed, adding: "In addition, property sales have not materialised as expected in both number and value.

"Consequently, as a result of a lower-than-expected cash balance, the group is very unlikely to meet all contractual payments. The directors therefore have no alternative but to put the group into administration to protect it for all creditors."

It added that BHS would continue to trade as usual while potential buyers are sought.

The company's owner, Dominic Chappell, said he will continue to work with the administrators to "find a solution post the administration".

Speaking to the Press Association, Mr Chappell said: "No-one is to blame. It was a combination of bad trading and not being able to raise enough money from the property portfolio.

"In the end, we just couldn't reach an agreement with Arcadia over pensions."

BHS was bought last year by a consortium called Retail Acquisitions, headed by Mr Chappell, for £1 from retail entrepreneur Sir Philip Green, the owner of the Arcadia retail empire.

BHS has debts of more than £1.3 billion, including a pension fund deficit of £571 million, which proved a major stumbling block in the rescue talks.

Sir Philip is reported to have offered £80 million towards the cost of BHS pensions, though the regulator could still pursue further payment from the retail billionaire and has opened an official investigation into company's pension scheme liabilities.

Labour has accused the businessman of extracting "hundreds of millions of pounds" from the high street chain and taking off to "his favourite tax haven".

Shadow business minister Angela Eagle said Sir Philip, a "vocal supporter of the Conservative Party", had left others to plug the hole in staff pensions.

Asking an urgent question in the House of Commons, Ms Eagle said: "BHS staff and the public will understandably want to know whether the former owner who took so many millions of pounds out of the business will have to pay his fair share of the liabilities which accrued during his stewardship.

"It's right that the pensions of working people are covered in the event their employer goes under, but in this situation it appears that this owner has extracted hundreds of millions of pounds from the business and walked away to his favourite tax haven, leaving the pensions protection scheme to pick up the bill."

The Pensions Regulator confirmed it was investigating the BHS pensions scheme to determine whether it would be appropriate to use its anti-avoidance powers.

The shopworkers' trade union Usdaw said taxpayers should not be left to pick up the pensions bill.

General secretary John Hannett said: " The Government needs to intervene now to protect taxpayers from picking up the bill for redundancy payments and safeguarding the Pension Protection Fund."

Rival retailer Sports Direct is understood to want to acquire some of BHS's 164 stores, but will only do so if it does not have to take on any pension liabilities.

It is thought that up to 30 other retailers may look to buy either a slimmed-down version of the business out of administration or pick over its store estate.

However, experts warned that it was "unlikely" a buyer for the business in its current form would be found.

Julie Palmer, partner at insolvency firm Begbies Traynor, said: "As an under-performing brand that simply hasn't kept up with the pace of change in the retail sector and requires major investment, it looks increasingly unlikely that any buyer will be brave enough to salvage the business in anything like its current form."

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