Not even your quixotic columnist is prepared to mount a full-on defence of Sir Philip Green this week, following the publication of the joint select committees’ report on the sale and collapse of BHS, and committee chairman Frank Field MP’s description of Green himself as ‘much worse’ than Robert Maxwell. What I would say, however, is that if you’re really interested in this story, read the actual report — rather than the knockabout précis of it in the Daily Mail, which has renamed Green ‘Sir Shifty’ — and form your own judgment, both of the extent of Green’s culpability in the loss of 11,000 BHS jobs and the devastation of its pension funds, and of the fairness of the MPs’ exposition and conclusions.
You might, I suggest, find their analysis of Green’s unwillingness to continue pouring investment into the declining BHS brand a tad superficial, or even wholly lacking in understanding of the retail science in which Green was once an acknowledged master. But you will probably agree with the MPs that his sale of the store chain to a consortium led by former bankrupt Dominic Chappell, who had no money or retail experience behind him, was a cynical outrage.
The deal seems to have happened only because Green himself was prepared to waive the conditions he set for finding a reputable new owner for BHS, and to deploy all his financial ingenuity to keep the out-of-his-depth chancer Chappell in play. A gallery of professional advisers (including the lawyers Olswang and accountants Grant Thornton for Chappell’s group) were content to collect fat fees while claiming each others’ presence made the whole shemozzle respectable. In hindsight it’s hard to understand how anyone involved thought Chappell capable of saving the sinking BHS ship, and indeed he wasn’t. But by the time the business finally went down with all hands, the Green family must have thought they had left responsibility for it behind them.
Then there’s the problem of the BHS pension funds, which had fallen into deficits of £233 million by 2012.