Belfast Telegraph

Sir Philip Green apologises to BHS staff and vows to 'sort' pension scheme

Sir Philip Green has apologised to the staff of collapsed retailer BHS and admitted that he sold the business to the "wrong guy", adding that he will "sort" the firm's pension scheme which has a £571 million black hole.

The Topshop billionaire on Wednesday faced MPs from the Business and Pensions committees who are investigating the firm's failure.

He said: "Nothing is more sad than how this has ended and I hope during the morning you will hear that there was no intent on my part for anything to be like this and didn't need to be like this.

"I just want to apologise to all the BHS people who are involved in this and have been involved."

The tycoon at first sought to shift the blame for his decision to sell BHS for £1 in 2015 to Retail Acquisitions, a consortium headed by Dominic Chappell, a former bankrupt with no retail experience. He said that the involvement of Mr Chappell's advisory firms Grant Thornton and Olswang gave him "credibility".

However, he confessed: "I made a bad call selling this business to RAL. We found the wrong guy."

Responding to claims that he blocked a rescue attempt from Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley before BHS went into administration in April, Sir Philip said the accusation was "laughable" and that he "wanted that deal to happen".

Responding to MP Iain Wright, who asked if he had blocked the sale because he didn't want another retail billionaire to make a success of BHS, Sir Philip appeared agitated and said: "That's an insult, that's really rude."

He claimed to have had "no involvement in that deal whatsoever", apart from offering to pay a "few million" to top up Mr Ashley's offer in order to keep the business alive.

BHS's collapse has left a potential 11,000 jobs at risk and a £571 million pension deficit, with the schemes of approximately 20,000 current and former workers falling into the Pension Protection Fund (PPF).

But the tycoon vowed: "We want to find a solution for the 20,000 pensioners. We still believe that money into the PPF does not resolve it. From what I've seen I would say it's resolvable, it's sortable, we will sort it, we will find a solution and I want to give my assurances to the 20,0000 pensioners that I am here to sort this."

Sir Philip also took the blame for the current state of the scheme, admitting "it's my fault".

He also came in for criticism for taking around £400 million in dividends out of BHS during his 15-year ownership. However, Sir Philip claimed that, through his Arcadia retail empire, he had pumped £600 million into BHS after the dividend payments.

He also struck a defiant tone over his use of the tax haven Monaco to run his business, saying: "Envy and jealousy, my doctor tells me, are incurable diseases. I have done nothing wrong."

"I don't accept that it is tax avoidance. I could have been a lot more aggressive than I probably was. Every penny our company has made in the United Kingdom has paid tax."

Defending his character at the end of the meeting, Sir Philip said: "All people in BHS know I'm honest and no way in the world I would have wanted this type of ending."

In a joint statement after the meeting, Iain Wright, chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, and Frank Field, chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said they were pleased Sir Philip was trying to put together a better deal for BHS pensioners.

They added: "We hope he will come up with an offer that is satisfactory to the Pensions Regulator. However, he doesn't only have to satisfy the Pensions Regulator, today he is before the bar of public opinion. Much of his reputation now depends on how generously he responds."

They also said Sir Philip's evidence raised more questions about the structure of companies owned by his wife Lady Cristina Green, including the profits they made and tax they paid.

They said: "We have more witnesses scheduled at the end of June and in the last few days we have received a huge amount of further evidence. We have many further questions for Sir Philip, particularly the big questions on the pension fund that he was unable to answer today."