Belfast Telegraph

Sir Philip takes blame for BHS pensions mess and vows to sort it out

By Ravender Sembhy

Sir Philip Green has apologised to the staff of collapsed retailer BHS, adding that he will "sort" the company's dilapidated pension scheme, which has a £571m black hole.

The Topshop billionaire was facing MPs from the Business and Pensions committees, who are investigating the high street giant's failure.

BHS operates four stores in greater Belfast and has around 200 employees. All are still currently trading.

Sir Philip 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 it 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."

BHS's collapse has left a potential 11,000 jobs at risk and a £571m pensions black hole, 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 (putting) money into the PPF does not resolve it. The schemes are quite complex, but 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."

He told the MPs that there was now "a light in the tunnel" for the beleaguered scheme.

Sir Philip added that he had little to do with BHS's pension trustees but took the blame for the current state of the scheme. "It's my fault," he said.

The tycoon has also come in for criticism for taking £400m in dividends out of the firm during his 15-year ownership and selling it to former bankrupt Dominic Chappell for £1 in 2015.

However, he claimed that, through his Arcadia retail empire, he had pumped £600m into BHS after the dividend payments. He also defended 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."

In an extraordinary exchange, Sir Philip stopped mid-sentence at one point to rebuke Richard Fuller MP for "staring" at him.

He said to Mr Fuller: "Sir, do you mind not looking at me like that all the time, it's really disturbing. You just want to stare at me, it's uncomfortable."

Mr Fuller replied: "I don't wish to make you feel uncomfortable, Sir Philip."

Striking a more convivial tone, Mr Fuller added: "I think it is another parliamentary colleague that is known for his death stare.

"I am sorry if I unnerved you, but I learnt from my previous career in business and also in politics that if you are doing something important you should look someone straight in the eye." Sir Philip replied: "Now we are talking, we can look at each other."

At the end of the meeting, Sir Philip said: "All people in BHS know I'm honest and (there is) no way in the world I would have wanted this type of ending."

Belfast Telegraph

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