In a remarkable article in the FT, Conservative MP for Haltemprice and Holden, David Davis brands Phil Green’s behaviour at BHS as
… the dark side of capitalism: increased borrowing and payment of ever bigger dividends; risk transferred from the private to the public when the business fails; the low paid and the taxpayer left to pick up the bill. It is all worryingly reminiscent of the 2008 banking crash.
I would go further and liken Green’s behaviour to Robert Maxwell. Instead of stealing money from the Pension Fund, he starved the pension fund of the money due to it.
Legitimised through political donations
The BHS pension fund fell from a surplus of £17m in 2002 to a potential deficit of £571m today, a sum strikingly similar to the profit taken out of the company by the Greens. BHS has not made a profit since 2008
For his work to the British retail industry, Green was knighted, like Maxwell, Green was involved in political lobbying and was a heavy donor to the power-brokers of his day.
Frankly it doesn’t matter that Maxwell funded the Labour Party and Green the Conservative party, what matters is that both were legitimised by politicians whose power bases were reinforced by the same money.
PPF not to be bought off
It now appears the PPF were twice offered the opportunity to take on the liabilities of the BHS Pension scheme within the last year. They would not be bought off
Last night the BBC claimed that latterly, payments made to shareholders (principally Green’s wife) had not been given clearance from the Pension Regulator, It may be that Green’s activities were not only odious but criminal. This however has yet to be confirmed.
Whether Green deliberately broke the law or not, the Pension Regulator has retrospective powers in situations like this.
I hope that the PPF look through the sale of BHS to Retail Acquisitions, an organisation run by a twice bankrupt that did nothing to repair the damage and took £25m from BHS (including £11m of legal fees) in its year’s tenure.
Green might have hoped that Dominic Chappell had made a better fist of things so that the gossamer skin between the BHS that has just entered administration and the lame duck he sold for £1 had become a little tougher,
But anyone can see that the damage was done by Green and that it was done in the full view of politicians from both parties (and indeed a third coalition partner).
This is not a pension problem – it is more fundamental
In his article, Davis calls for a change in the way we govern companies
The government must review its approach to the financial engineering of businesses to eradicate tax liability and park financial risks anywhere but on the owners. It should rewrite the companies and finance acts accordingly.
It would be easy to point the finger at the PPF but I suspect it was right not to deal with the monkey but wait till they could get at the organ grinder. If there is a failure of Government, it is – as Davis argues, it is in the approach to business practice.
Alan Rubenstein at the PPF and Lesley Titcomb at the Pension Regulator are formidable figures.
Philip Green will not be able to buy them off. Unlike Chappell, Green has money. It may be in Monaco but it is big money.
There is no better time to test the transparency of offshore banking than now.
Let us find that money, repatriate it and use it to pay the pensioners and future pensioners of those who work and worked at BHS.