Frank Field has accused the Green family of “nicking money” from BHS and exploiting its workers as MPs ramp up the criticism of the parties involved in the collapse of the 88-year-old retailer.
The Labour MP called on Sir Philip Green to write a “very large cheque” to fix the £571m deficit in the BHS pension scheme in an extraordinary outburst during a parliamentary hearing.
Field, the chairman of the work and pensions committee, said the evidence that MPs had heard about the collapse of BHS was “preposterous”. He said the City was furious about the damage to its reputation from the scandal.
Green last night called for Field to apologise for his “shocking and offensive behaviour”. He added: “Accusing me and my family of theft is totally false and unacceptable on any basis.”
Field made the comments as the leading UK banker at Goldman Sachs said it was not to blame for the failure of BHS. However, the finance director of Green’s retail business Arcadia claimed Goldman Sachs had “let us down”.
BHS collapsed into administration in April, putting 11,000 jobs at risk and leaving a £571m pension deficit. Green and his wife Lady Green controlled BHS for 15 years until he sold it for £1 to a consortium led by Dominic Chappell, who has been declared bankrupt three times.
There is growing anger about the collapse of BHS because Green and other investors collected more than £580m in dividends, rental payments and interest during the Topshop owner’s period in charge. Chappell’s consortium Retail Acquisitions also collected at least £17m from BHS, despite owning it for just 13 months.
MPs on the work and pensions committee, and the business, innovation and skills committee, are investigating how the BHS pension scheme ended up heavily in deficit and why Green sold the company to Chappell.
Field said: “If Sir Philip was serious he could today settle the pension issue. We are fed up with hearing: ‘I am about to fix it.’ He does not fix it. What is required is a very large cheque from the Green family, that have done so well out of the whole of this exploitation.
“The City is furious with your [Arcadia’s] behaviour, the image you have put over, that business is not about creating jobs, about spreading wealth, it’s about nicking money off other people. That is what we have seen, and we have got left very vulnerable pensioners and very vulnerable people trying to find a job in the labour market. Sir Philip could fix this today if he was serious.”
Field also said that the Arcadia executives were “stretching incredulity” with their evidence, adding: “I think all along we have had to shoehorn things out of you.”
“We have heard evidence that if it was in a novel, you would get the novel thrown back at you by the publisher because it is unrealisable,” Field said. “This is clearly going to be made a film, the elements that we have had.”
Field made his outburst after Arcadia executives declined to take sole responsibility for the failure of BHS.
Paul Budge, the finance director of Arcadia, said there were “a number of people to blame”. He said: “We let ourselves down. Goldman Sachs let us down.”
Budge said Arcadia had left BHS with £94m of cash, as well as valuable property assets. “In the right hands, the turnaround plan was achievable,” he said.
The BHS finance director also said that a rescue deal for the pension scheme is a “work in progress”.
Speaking after the meeting. Green said Field’s comments were “outrageous”.
He said: “Mr Field’s outrageous outburst today demonstrated yet again his clear prejudice against myself, my wife and my executives, who turned up for a second time.
“He arrived very late, offered no apology, heard no evidence, clearly just to put on a 10 minute show and was extremely rude.”
Goldman was thrown into the centre of the BHS scandal after Green claimed that he “one million per cent” would not have sold the department store chain to Chappell had he not passed an informal vetting by the bank. Goldman had previously said it provided only preliminary observations to Green on the prospective buyer and was not paid for its work.
Michael Sherwood, vice-chairman of Goldman Sachs, told MPs that the US bank was not to blame for the scandal.
“I absolutely do not accept blame,” Sherwood said. “He [Chappell] never passed our sniff test. If I had a regret, which I do, I wish we had documented more clearly our role in writing so that we did not have this confusion over our role that we do today.”
The Goldman banker said his company’s role had been “extremely limited”, that it had never been a “gatekeeper” as Green claimed, and that a paid adviser would have done full due diligence on Chappell. Nonetheless, he said Goldman had “done a good job of highlighting the risks” in dealing with Chappell.
Sherwood is arguably the most influential banker in the City and has worked with Green for 12 years.
He suggested that Goldman was reviewing whether to continue working with the billionaire tycoon, but the bank is still managing Green’s private wealth. “The frequency with which we review clients will be looked at again,” he said.
When asked by MPs whether Goldman’s work on the BHS deal had enhanced its reputation, Sherwood replied: “No.”
The banker was forced to apologise to MPs after he revealed that Goldman was approached by Green about offering a £40m loan to BHS when it was bought by Chappell.
Goldman had not previously disclosed talks about the loan, despite giving oral and written evidence to the parliamentary committee. This evidence included details of 79 emails, 13 calls, and three meetings that Goldman was involved in during the sales process.
Iain Wright, the chair of the business, innovation and skills committee, said: “How can clients trust you when you’ve failed to remember a potential £40m transaction?”
Sherwood said he had forgotten the conversation with Green and that a formal request for the loan did not materialise. “We never put terms of the loan, ever,” he said.
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