Sir Philip Green has called on the chairman of the parliamentary committee probing the collapse of high street mainstay BHS to resign, accusing him of bias after he demanded Sir Philip pay hundreds of millions of pounds into failed retailer’s pension fund.
Sir Philip, who sold BHS last year to a group headed by a former racing driver with no retailing experience for £1, also threatened to pull out of the parliamentary inquiry led by Frank Field, chairman of the Work and Pensions Committee.
Mr Field dismissed the comments saying he expects Sir Philip to testify next week.
The angry exchange came after Mr Field, a former welfare minister, told the Financial Times on Friday his committee “would laugh” if Philip were to offer less than £600m to settle the former retail chain’s pension debts when he testifies on Wednesday.
“I am not prepared to participate in a process which has not even the pretence of fairness and objectivity and which has as its primary objective the destruction of my reputation. I therefore require you to resign immediately from this inquiry,” Sir Philip wrote in a letter to Mr Field. “You are not the Pensions Regulator and you have no power over the Pensions Regulator.”
Business Minister Anna Soubry said on Twitter that “Sir Philip needs to understand Parliament is the boss, get a grip & get in front of the committee on Weds”.
The collapse of BHS has turned into one of the most poisonous bankruptcies in recent British business history, with almost daily revelations about Sir Philips’ controversial decision to sell the company to Dominic Chappell, a former bankrupt.
Earlier this month, BHS ended its 88-year history on UK high streets after bankruptcy administrators failed to find a new owner. The collapse has cost 11,000 jobs and forced the company’s pension plan into a government rescue scheme, which will cut future benefits to pensioners significantly.
According to Mr Field’s estimates, the cost to fully cover pension promises for members has increased from £571m in March, when the retailer was working on a rescue plan, to £600m now that the retailer is in liquidation.
Mr Field said in a statement: “We appreciate that Sir Philip is trying to set up a deal for the pension fund, but £600 million is the size of the deficit. That’s not jumping to any conclusion, that is a fact.”
“We very much look forward to hearing his side of the story on Wednesday,” he added.
Mr Field’s investigation in one of two parliamentary probes into the BHS collapse.
MPs are seeking answers from ministers and other key players in the 2015 BHS sale. A series of hearings over the past two weeks have highlighted allegedly bizarre behaviour by Dominic Chappell, the former racing driver whose Retail Acquisitions vehicle bought BHS last year.
“The evidence we have been hearing about the BHS sale has been very worrying and disconcerting,” Mr Field told the FT. “The committee may have considered a reasonable settlement in the very early days of our inquiry, but things have changed.”
“Sir Philip needs to convince us that he’s come up with the very best deal for those pensioners,” Mr Field said.
Sir Philip’s spokesman did not comment on suggestions that he would put a pension proposal to the committee next week.
MPs on Friday wrote to Anna Soubry, Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise, asking what steps her department took to ensure there were no conflicts of interest in the appointment of the administrators and liquidators of BHS.
The committee has also asked Baroness Altmann, the pensions minister, to supply records of all correspondence and telephone calls with Dominic Chappell. This move follows claims by Mr Chappell during his evidence this week that Baroness Altmann had cancelled meetings he arranged to discuss a regulatory investigation into the BHS pension scheme.
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