The still small voice of the (BHS) pensioner


A woman walks past a BHS store in Leicester

A woman walks past a BHS store in Leicester

I think back now to the people with whom I worked in BHS – by and large decent and hard-working folk, who had little prospect of ever being well-off unless they won the lottery or their Premium Bond came up.  Retailing often involves long and unsocial hours, and can include hard physical work of unloading boxes, moving counters and racks etc.  Those who worked in BHS did least a 40 hour week, often working at weekends and sometimes in the evenings, and were paid wages that were never going to make them rich – for many just above the living wage.  Yes, they did get a staff discount on merchandise they purchased from the store, but this was the one and only “perk”.  Many of the staff were, and are, women, and a considerable number were part-time, to fit in with family responsibilities.

I contrast therefore those who are now earning approximately £15,000 or £16,000 per annum with the £5m that Philip Green is reputed to have spent on one of his big birthday parties in an exotic foreign location.  The cost of such a party represents about 333 working years’ salary for a BHS member of staff.

Written evidence of Lin Macmillan to the BHS Enquiry

Worlds apart

Philip Green gave oral evidence to the enquiry last week, he seemed plausible, he made promises, he came across as a reasonable man who had been let down by Dominic Chappell. In the game of pass the parcel, he was keen to be part of a pension solution not the author of the problem.

But as Lin Macmillan’s evidence makes clear, the world of Philip Green is so far from that of most of his shop workers, that the Select Committees considering evidence have every reason to distrust Philip Green.

Yesterday Philip Green is reported to have taken possession of a £46m private jet 

Green jet


The abuse of office

If you look behind the curtain and listen to the Chair of the BHS pension trustees (I know him to be an upright man) then you see the almost impossible conflicts placed upon him and his colleague. Documents published yesterday show how the man to whom Green sold the pension scheme abused his trustees

Another document shows how the promises that Philip Green’s holding company, Arcadia, watered down the support it was giving its pension scheme (the document is structured as a succession of drafts, each of which shows the Arcadia covenant deteriorating.

Rather like God with Elijah, the still small voice speaks through the earthquake wind and fire. The truth resonates above the bluster.

Giving the members back their voice

The reason we are having this enquiry is so the voices of the trustees , pension scheme members and ordinary members of staff can be heard. Thanks to the Committee (and the FT’s  Jo Cumbo, who put these documents on twitter), I know the views of those who do not shout loud and do not have a lawyer to brief them on every nuance.

The BHS problem goes even deeper than the corporate values that have been broken, it goes to the heart of what we expect from business owners towards their staff.

At some stage last century, we decided we did not want unions in the private sector and we allowed their power to diminish to a point where they are all but an irrelevance in disputes like this.

Without the union’s voice, who will speak for the member, other than the trustees and the odd Lin Macmillan, who speaks as a member of the Kirk (the Church of Scotland)


Lin Macmillan

If it were not for Lin Macmillan you would not be reading this article and Philip Green would be a little more comfortable working out what he does next.

Society has a way of speaking through the earthquake, wind and fire. We know that through recent events in Yorkshire. We need to listen to the still small voice.

1 Kings 19:11-13King James Version (KJV)

11 And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:

12 And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

13 And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?




About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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2 Responses to The still small voice of the (BHS) pensioner

  1. SuffolkBoy says:

    I have a family connection to BHS, and agree with the comments about the extraordinary level of hard, physical work and unsociable hours staff have been expected to do for very little reward. Fortunately, my family member who has worked for the company for 20 years hasn’t had to rely on the paltry income to maintain her lifestyle. She’s enjoyed the camaraderie and friendship of her fellow workers, and even the fact that she is likely to suffer a 10%+ reduction in her retirement income doesn’t particularly affect her.
    What really bothers me is this: the defined benefit pension scheme was replaced by a DC scheme a few years ago. Deferred members of the scheme were happy to remain members on the grounds of the promise of a good pension compared to the alternative derisory transfer value (and obviously no financial adviser would have recommended a transfer out). Despite this, apparently a number of middle to senior managers in the firm jumped ship within the last 18 months. They had worked out that transfer value now, was worth more than the “guaranteed” pension later. I wonder what they knew, and who had tipped them off? What responsibility did the Trustees have?

  2. henry tapper says:

    There was a recent ruling “the Ilford Ruling” which prevents senior managers from taking their benefits where it jeopardises the scheme. I can’t comment if this is what has happened here, but if your family member feels that full transfer values were paid to senior staff members , then there is a case for whistleblowing to the Pensions Regulator. If that is what has happened- it is form of insider trading

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