Sir Philip Green has apologised to the staff of collapsed retailer BHS, adding that he will “sort” the firm’s dilapidated pension scheme which has a £571 million black hole.
The Topshop billionaire is facing MPs from the Business and Pensions committees who are investigating the firm’s failure.
He said: “Nothing is more sad than how this has ended and I hope during the morning you will hear that there was no intent on my part for anything to be like this and didn’t need to be like this.
“I just want to apologise to all the BHS people who are involved in this and have been involved.”
BHS’s collapse has left a potential 11,000 jobs at risk and a £571 million pensions black hole, with the schemes of approximately 20,000 current and former workers falling into the Pension Protection Fund (PPF).
But the Jewish tycoon vowed: “We want to find a solution for the 20,000 pensioners. We still believe that money into the PPF does not resolve it. The schemes are quite complex, but from what I’ve seen I would say it’s resolvable, it’s sortable, we will sort it, we will find a solution and I want to give my assurances to the 20,0000 pensioners that I am here to sort this.”
He told the MPs that there was now “a light in the tunnel” for the scheme.
Sir Philip added that he had little to do with BHS’s pension trustees but took the blame for the current state of the scheme.
“It’s my fault,” he said.
Sir Philip has also come in for criticism for taking £400 million in dividends out of the firm during his 15-year ownership and selling it to former bankrupt Dominic Chappell for £1 in 2015.
However, Sir Philip claimed that, through his Arcadia retail empire, he had pumped £600 million into BHS after the dividend payments.
He also defended his use of the tax haven Monaco to run his business, saying: “I don’t accept that it is tax avoidance. I could have been a lot more aggressive than I probably was. Every penny our company has made in the United Kingdom has paid tax.”
In an extraordinary exchange, Sir Philip stopped mid-sentence at one point to rebuke Richard Fuller MP for “staring” at him.
He said to Mr Fuller: “Sir, do you mind not looking at me like that all the time, it’s really disturbing. You just want to stare at me, it’s uncomfortable.”
Mr Fuller replied: “I don’t wish to make you feel uncomfortable, Sir Philip.”
Striking a more convivial tone, Mr Fuller added: “I think it is another parliamentary colleague that is known for his death stare. I am sorry if I unnerved you but I learnt from my previous career in business and also in politics that if you are doing something important you should look someone straight in the eye.”
Sir Philip replied: “Now we are talking, we can look at each other.”
At times Sir Philip appeared agitated during a series of protracted exchanges.
Richard Graham MP put to Sir Philip Mr Chappell’s claim that the £1 deal for BHS would be pension free and that Project Thor, a plan to save the pension scheme, would go ahead.
In a series of exchanges, Sir Philip replied: “I am sorry, are we in the same room? I am not sure we are. I think you should come and sit here.
“You keep asking me the same question.”
He then pleaded to committee chairman Frank Field “I apologise sir, I can’t deal with this,” before adding: “This is really simple. I am happy to get a phone in the room now. We are currently working on this as we speak, an updated Project Thor. They have been working on it for the past two or three weeks.”
When probed on what sort of person or organisation he was looking to sell BHS to, Sir Philip said: “Someone who can take the business forward. Most of the people that turned up wanted to do a process – almost everybody.
“I think most of the people wanted a pre-pack or admin, take the business through bankruptcy; that was unfortunately where we ended with everybody who turned up.”