Sir Philip Green has exclusively told ITV News he is “sad and very sorry” for the hardship caused by the collapse of BHS.
Sir Philip, who has faced scathing criticism for his role in the collapse, said it had been a “horrible” time for him and his family, but vowed that his number one priority is to fix the situation.
The retail magnate was speaking to ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston in his first major interview since the demise of the high street store.
In a wide-ranging interview, Sir Philip revealed:
- How he considered buying BHS back amid its collapse
- He wants to “correct” comments made by Prime Minister Theresa May about him at the Conservative Party conference
- Dominic Chappell, who bought BHS from him for £1, was “categorically” the wrong buyer
- He will do “whatever it takes” to resolve the BHS pensions crisis, but refused to put a figure on how much it would take
- He feels MPs use Parliamentary privilege as a “bullying” tactic following criticism by Frank Field MP
Sir Philip, who chairs the Arcadia Group which includes the likes of Topshop and Burton, bought British Home Stores in 2000 for £200 million, rebranding it BHS.
The company first began to struggle amid fierce competition in 2006 and Sir Philip eventually sold it to Retail Acquisitions, led by Mr Chappell, for £1 in 2015.
A plan to turn BHS around failed and it collapsed into administration in April 2016, with many pointing the finger of blame at Sir Philip for taking big dividends and leaving the company with a huge pension deficit.
In a thinly-veiled attack at the Conservative Party conference earlier this month, Theresa May criticised bosses who “take out massive dividends while knowing that the company pension is about to go bust”.
Asked about her comments by ITV News, Sir Philip said he would be sending a letter to Downing Street.
“I don't want to get into the debate of what the new prime minister said,” he told Robert Peston.
“We put back significantly more than we took out. But it's easy to say these things, got an easy audience listening, without knowing all the facts. So I think, you know, we need to correct those facts.”
Sir Philip began by stating how sorry he was for the collapse of BHS and the pensions deficit that has plunged many employees into crisis.
He said it was “never my intention” for the company to be left in such a dire situation and that he was prepared to do “what it takes” to fix the problem.
He said: “I want to start with saying how sad and very, very, very sorry I am for all the hardship and sort of sadness caused to all the people who worked there, and also the pensioners."
Sir Philip said he was in a “very strong dialogue” with the pensions regulator to find a solution, but would not put a number on the level of financial support he would be willing to give.
“I can't get into a conversation with you about any of the detail,” he said.
“The answer is, it will take what it takes to resolve it. We are in that discussion. There are some things outside of my knowledge in terms of sponsor, how it works, how the funds are deployed, how they’re invested. The whole thing just needs to come together."
After BHS collapsed in April, administrators tried in vain to find a buyer for the firm and decided to wind the company down in June, with the announcement that all 164 stores would be closed down coming the following month.
But for the first time today, Sir Philip has revealed how he considered buying the company back at the eleventh hour.
He said: “Even at the end and with the business had gone into admin or liquidation or whatever, and there was a moment where, you know, they were trying to sell it to different buyers and I sort of thought, ‘should I buy it back?’
“We sat and discussed it and thought ‘is that going to be worse? What's the right decision?’ So even at that point, where there would have been an opportunity to buy it back in clean form, if you like, understanding the things that needed to be done had now been done, I felt it was the wrong thing to do.”
Since the collapse of BHS, Mr Chappell has blamed Sir Philip for the collapse, while the Topshop boss told MPs it was a “bad call” to sell the company to Retail Acquisitions.
Today, Sir Philip said Mr Chappell was “clearly, categorically the wrong buyer” and he and his family have had to live with the "horrid" consequences of the decision, with constant scrutiny from MPs, the press and public.
“This has been a horrible, horrible, horrible period,” he said. “But at the end of the day I haven’t run away.
“I want to fix this pension solution more than anybody in the world. I believe with good will on both sides we can fix it.”
Sir Philip even said he had a heart stent operation six days before he appeared before MPs, saying this showed he was not shying away from his responsibility to BHS.