Sir Philip Green faced MPs to give his account of what happened when he sold BHS last year to a consortium led by Dominic Chappell, an ex-bankrupt, who by his own admission knew nothing about retailing. The retailer went into administration earlier this year leaving future of its 11,000 staff in doubt and many of the 20,000 members of its pension scheme facing cuts to their retirement with the fund in need of a bailout estimated at £275m.
The flamboyant businessman’s appears in front of the parliamentary committee that last week heard a flavour of the internal feuding between management and new owners, including allegations a death threat was made against the chief executive and there plans to hive off assets before the retailer collapsed.
Sir Philip said there is a plan “in motion” to resolve the BHS pension deficit
In a heated session, the retail entrepreneur avoided answering quite a lot of the detailed questions
But he does admit “unfortunately” he sold BHS “to the wrong guy.”
On several occasions during a near 6-hour hearing he accuses MPs on the committee of “bullying” him
He denies blocking a potential rescue bid by SportsDirect just before BHS collapsed
He hits out suggestions he was involved in tax avoidance and points out he and his companies have paid “hundreds of millions” in tax
By Mark Odell, Lauren Fedor, John Murray Brown and Lucinda Elliott
The report by Sir Philip Green into Whitehall efficiency is now out* and it makes interesting reading, not least his suggestion that maybe the state shouldn’t be paying for mobile phones for desk-bound junior personnel. (There are 105,000 government mobiles).
One of his discoveries is the lack of reliable central government data. For example, his team was first told that Whitehall spent £2bn a year on travel. The second estimate was £500m. The third was £768m – before the final figure came in at £551m. (This will seem familiar to all political journalists).
Sir Philip has also found big differences in prices paid to suppliers: a box of paper can cost anything from £8 to £73. Laptops vary from £353 to £2,000. Read more
It was worth listening to Today this morning if only to hear Lord Ashdown under siege over the issue of Sir Philip Green and his tax status. The Lib Dem peer was asked about how the government could seriously talk about battling tax avoidance given the recent hiring of the retail tycoon as an efficiency czar: As the interviewer asked:
“If this government was really serious about tax avoidance it would not have employed, would it, Sir Philip Green, who is also accused of avoiding taxes, perfectly legally…but there he is, advising the government on waste. If the Lib Dems really had power in this government he wouldn’t be there would he?”
Ashdown said he would not criticise the appointment. He then rattled off a list of the many changes achieved by the coalition (pupil premium, tax breaks for low-income families, etc). It was as if he didn’t want to discuss the tycoon at all.
But the Lib Dems do seem to be facing both ways on the issue of tax at the moment. Yesterday Danny Alexander announced a new £900m to spend on tackling the issue. But how does this square with hiring Sir Philip? Read more
It turns out that Sir Philip, the government’s new efficiency czar, didn’t like the Today programme asking him uncomfortable questions last week. The retail tycoon was asked, among other things, about the tax status of his wife – who owns Arcadia. (She is resident in Monaco).
In an opinion piece for the Mail on Sunday today Sir Philip explains a little more about how he can advise Whitehall in the coming months. There’s also a little thinly-disguised threat against the BBC: Read more