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Business Comment

Anthony Hilton: Green's new partnership could go with a bang

I was too optimistic recently in saying next year would be a bigger challenge for retailers than this one, because this week Stead & Simpson announced the closure of 90 of its 227 stores, and then came news HMV was also in dire straits.

It suggests banks and trade creditors are unwilling to prop up what might be thought of as yesterday's businesses.

But the most unexpected development was the news that Sir Philip Green, above with Kate Moss, has decided to sell a quarter of Topshop to a US private-equity house for £350m. An even bigger shock was that he used almost all the proceeds to pay off bank debt.

Sir Philip presented this as a triumph, and proof he had not lost his deal-making skill. But Topshop is believed to be his best business and he is not known for selling his crown jewels. So the other way of looking at it is that he has reluctantly concluded that he cannot afford to expand in America without someone to share the financial burden. The bank was unwilling to be that partner so it was paid off. The price for getting the finance he needs is a significant loss of control.

Sir Philip likes to be in charge. So, presumably, does his new shareholder given it is a private-equity firm. This may not be an issue as long as things go well, but if things go less well it is potentially explosive.

Politics puts the block on pension money saver

The financier and businessman Ed Truell worked out a few months ago that merging all the local-authority pensions schemes in this country would save up to £35bn over five years through lower costs, greater efficiency and more productive investment.

He got PWC, the accounting firm, to give a second opinion. Even being cautious they said there was at least £17bn to be had.

He pitched the idea to Chancellor George Osborne, but he thought that politically it would be too difficult.

A separate effort to merge the schemes in the capital is being led by the London Pension Fund Authority (LPFA), but is meeting stiff resistance from some of those who would be taken over.

Now, however, I hear Mr Truell is being lined up by London Mayor Boris Johnson to become next chairman of the LPFA.

It is a great choice, but one likely to set the sparks flying.