MPs pressure pensions watchdog over Arcadia sale speculation
Labour MP Frank Field has pressed for more detail about the watchdog’s use of the voluntary clearance system.
A powerful group of MPs has urged The Pensions Regulator (TPR) to reveal whether it has contacted Arcadia Group following reports the Topshop owner could be sold.
Frank Field, chairman of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, wants the watchdog to outline any dialogue it has had with the trustees of Arcadia’s pension scheme, which had a deficit of £565 million at the time of the March 31 2016 valuation.
In a letter to the authority, he also pressed for more detail about the TPR’s use of the voluntary clearance system, a process which allows companies to seek the watchdog’s backing ahead of a potential sale.
The move comes after the Sunday Times reported last month that Sir Philip Green’s retail empire could be sold to Chinese textiles firm Shandong Ruyi.
Writing to the TPR chief executive Lesley Titcomb, Mr Field said: “The voluntary clearance system has been used sparingly in recent times.
“Could you please confirm that you believe that undergoing voluntary clearance is responsible corporate behaviour; that the sale of a sponsor (…) of a large pension scheme with a substantial deficit would be an appropriate transaction for which to apply for voluntary clearance; and that you have been in contact with the trustees of the Arcadia regarding the potential implications of the mooted sale.”
Arcadia owns a string of prominent high-street clothing brands including Topshop, Topman, Dorothy Perkins, Burton Menswear, Miss Selfridge, Outfit, Evans and Wallis.
It is now perfectly clear there is no truth whatsoever that the business is being sold to Shandong Ruyi. Sir Philip Green
As part of the pension scheme’s recovery plan, Sir Philip has agreed to pay £50 million a year until August 2019 and £54.5 million from then until March 2026, in contrast to £24.3 million a year previously.
The renewed pressure on the billionaire retail tycoon comes after he was lambasted by MPs over the collapse of department store chain BHS.
In a letter released at the weekend, Sir Philip encouraged the veteran Labour MP to end their public spat and focus his attention on “tackling Carillion or someone else”.
He said: “I think it is now perfectly clear there is no truth whatsoever that the business is being sold to Shandong Ruyi, whom I had never heard of before the article and who have also confirmed to the Sunday Times directly, this is not the case.
“Mr Field, why don’t we call a truce. You say it is not personal, it could not be more personal. Go and tackle Carillion or someone else.”