'Are you staring at me?' tycoon asks...
Green: BHS pensions problem is ‘resolvable’, he tells MPs
In a marathon, often fractious, six-hour session before the Work and Pensions Committee, Sir Philip said: “I am there to sort it. It is resolvable, it is in motion, currrent.”
The billionaire, who also owns Top Shop and Burtons, told MPs that he regretted the demise of the company which he sold last year for £1 and which collapsed in May without a buyer, putting 11,000 jobs at risk.
“Nothing is more sad than how this has ended,” he said.
Sir Philip has been the target for severe criticism for taking £400m in dividends out of the firm while the pension deficit has climbed to £600m.
He sold the business to Retail Acquisitions Ltd (RAL) run by ex-racing driver and former bankrupt Dominic Chappell, who had no retail experience and last week told the same committee that Sir Philip had blocked a rescue deal involving Mike Ashley, the owner of Sports Direct.
Sir Philip insisted he had invested £800m into BHS in an attempt to turn it around. He said he had “tried today not to blame anybody.”
Speaking of the sale, he said: “Unfortunately, we found the wrong guy. Would I do that deal again? No.”
Asked why he did not sell to Mike Ashley, he said: “Why would I stop someone who wanted to buy it?”
Committee member Iain Wright replied: “Ego”.
Sir Philip responded: “Oh please, that’s an insult. That is rude. I am glad the meeting is over. It is a sad way to end. It is out of order and you should apologise.”
He said he had considered buying the business back but felt there would be “uproar” if he did. “So I thought I better not.”
Asked if he felt “hounded” he said he had not been able to visit any of his shops for five weeks.
“I made a bad call selling this business to RAL,” he said.
He said he was committed to sitting down with the regulator to “get this over”, adding: “I will give it my best shot.”
In a series of sometimes fractious exchanges, Sir Philip became ruffled and took offence at the way he was being challenged.
At one point he Sir Philip rebuked Richard Fuller MP for “staring” at him.
“Sir, do you mind not looking at me like that all the time, it’s really disturbing,” he said. “You just want to stare at me, it’s uncomfortable.”
Afterwards, Mr Wright, chairman of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, and Frank Field MP, chairman of the Work and Pensions Committee, said: “We thank Sir Philip for giving us six hours of evidence in Parliament today, and we were pleased to hear that he is still trying to put together a better deal for the BHS pensioners.
“We hope he will come up with an offer that is satisfactory to the Pension Regulator. However, he doesn’t only have to satisfy the Pensions Regulator, today he is before the bar of public opinion. Much of his reputation now depends on how generously he responds.
“Today’s evidence raised host of further questions and we first want to get much more detail on the structure of various companies, particularly those owned by Lady Cristina Green, the profits they have made and the tax they have paid.
“We have more witnesses scheduled at the end of June and in the last few days we have received a huge amount of further evidence. We have many further questions for Sir Philip, particularly the big questions on the pension fund that he was unable to answer today.”