MYSTERY HOUR: The two British parliamentary committees looking into the collapse of the British high street retailer BHS and its pension gap have begun hearing evidence from an array of advisers to Sir Philip Green, who sold the ailing BHS last year for one pound, or $1.50. He remains one of its biggest creditors.
The investigation has taken on a soap operatic tone, thanks to the Labour MP Frank Field, who has been asking many a question since BHS was placed into administration in late April, putting 11,000 jobs at risk. The retailer was also suffering from a 571 million pound, or $822 million, pension deficit, and parliamentarians are now trying to figure out why that sum was so big.
The parliamentary investigation, one of five probes under way by bodies including the British government and the pensions regulator, is set to last for the next few weeks, and MP will be hearing from a variety of people including Ian Grabiner, chief executive officer of Green’s Arcadia Group, parent of Topshop and Topman; Paul Budge, Arcadia’s finance director; Gillian Hague, Arcadia’s financial controller, and Chris Harris, the retailer’s property director.
The investigation will also take in testimony from Goldman Sachs; PricewaterhouseCoopers; accountants Grant Thornton, and the British law firm Olswang, which specializes in media, communications and technology. Green himself is set to give testimony in mid-June.
Field, who serves as chair of parliament’s Work and Pensions Committee, made a statement late Monday following the first day of hearings — and didn’t stint on the drama.
“This information [gleaned] paints a worrying picture of the last 18 months of Sir Philip Green’s tenure at BHS. A solution superior to where BHS and its pension scheme has ended up may have been available, but for whatever reason it was not achieved.
“Was the [pensions] regulator as passive, slow-moving and shut out as it appears? And where did the trustees and the fleets of advisers to all sides fit in the web? Why was Arcadia Group not more forthcoming with the information requested by the regulator and trustees?”