Topshop tycoon Sir Philip Green this weekend launched an outspoken attack on Frank Field, accusing the veteran Labour MP of causing delays to his settlement with the BHS pension fund.
Green said Field, chairman of the Commons committee investigating failed department store chain BHS, ‘intimidated or frightened’ the Pensions Regulator out of agreeing a deal months earlier than the eventual settlement, which was reached in early 2017.
War of words: Green lays the blame for the delayed BHS pension deal with Frank Field MP
Field dismissed Green’s allegations and described his attitude as ‘breathtaking’.
In a ‘Section 89’ report, the Pensions Regulator said Green made a number of offers before an agreement was struck for him to pay £363 million into the BHS retirement scheme, which covers 22,000 members.
It included around £100 million over and above the amount Green had been asked to pay by the regulator to meet obligations to pensioners. The extra money is there as a buffer to be used at trustees’ discretion.
Green said: ‘When I was asked about the pension I said I was prepared to fix it. During the period until settlement, there are 17 letters Frank Field sent to the regulator listed on the parliamentary website. He continually went on TV.
‘He intimidated or frightened the regulator out of settling earlier. I tried more than hard to settle it a long time earlier. As outlined in the Section 89 document, there was continual dialogue to try to get to a settlement.
‘My personal belief is that in spite of substantial offers being made, the regulator was intent – due to outside pressures – on going through their process to the bitter end. Sadly the pensioners and staff plus myself and my family and all of the other executives had to suffer further months of agony.
‘It is unprecedented that anyone privately has ever written a cheque. Lots of ruthless businessmen would have bust it.’
Denied: Frank Field MP (pictured) said he did not hold up any process
Field last night denied the process had been delayed.
‘I didn’t hold up any process,’ he said. ‘It wasn’t in my hands. That process was decided by the Pensions Regulator. Certainly I was anxious that the Pensions Regulator got as much as possible out of him in settlement. Why not?’
Green and Field have been at loggerheads for months. The MP recently attacked the Insolvency Service for clearing Green after a long probe.
Dominic Chappell, who led the consortium that bought BHS from Green, faces a ban from acting as a director for up to 15 years as a result of the store chain’s collapse in 2016.
Field said it was ‘the same tired old story’ of the establishment being ‘strong on the weak and weak on the strong’. He added: ‘I would have thought that practically the whole country is aghast.’ He called it an ‘extraordinary result’.
In a recent interview with The Mail on Sunday, Field said Green had ‘got away with murder’.
The tycoon said: ‘There was an independent near-two year inquiry by the Insolvency Service which they stated is the biggest inquiry they have ever made, instigated by Field. They had a QC and the Business Minister sign off. For him to respond in the manner he has is wholly unacceptable and just demonstrates this is just personal.’
‘I don’t know what his expertise is. There’s no evidence he can even spell the word “business”.’
Field insisted he had no ‘personal vendetta’ against Green. He said he originally expected him to emerge as a ‘hero’ by immediately settling the deficit.
Green said he was not at fault in the BHS debacle but selling to Chappell had been an error. He said he had second thoughts on the eve of the sale.
‘Was it the worst mistake of my life? Yes, it was. Horrible.’