Sir Philip Green kicks £363m over to BHS pension scheme members. A good deal for them?

The sum is less than the scheme’s £571m calculated funding shortfall, but it is probably the best the workers who made millions for the tycoon are going to get

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So the battle of BHS is all over. Bar a bit of shouting. 

Retail billionaire Sir Philip Green has agreed to hand £363m over to 19,000 former BHS employees whose pensions were in line to take a serious kick to a painful place in the wake of the retailer’s collapse. 

That’s more than £200m less than the BHS Pension Scheme’s £571m calculated deficit, but the Pensions Regulator says that it represents the serious and credible offer from Sir Philip it didn’t have last year when it issued him with a warning notice.

The settlement is by no means perfect, but it probably does represent the best result that scheme members could have hoped for. 

They had been facing a 10 per cent haircut to their retirement funds, and lower benefits, through the BHS scheme falling into the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) that provides a partial safety net to employees of bankrupt companies.

Even had the regulator won its planned action against Sir Philip, it is hard to believe that it would have won the full £571m from the billionaire. Moreover, the case would have rattled along for years and at its conclusion any money won by the regulator would have gone into the PPF to fund benefits for all its members, not just those from BHS. 

Under the settlement that has been agreed, they’ll be put into the same position they’d have been in had BHS not collapsed, with the caveat that their benefits going forward won’t increase at quite the same rate. Savers with pots worth less than £18,000, meanwhile, will be able to opt for a lump sum if they want. 

All those involved in the case, including the BHS Pension Scheme Trustees, are professing themselves to be happy with that.

Perhaps the most telling statement came from MP Frank Field, chairman of the the Work and Pensions Select Committee, who has dogged Sir Philip ever since the collapse of BHS. He welcomed the deal and described it as “an important milestone”. 

Given that he refused to back down in the face of everything Sir Philip threw at him, proving that it is possible to take on a billionaire if you have the backbone to do so, we can probably be satisfied that this is about as good as it gets. 

As a result, the case against Sir Philip now falls away. The watchdog’s action against Dominic Chappell, the serial bankrupt who bought BHS for £1, continues but it’s unlikely to add much to the pile. Mr Chappell might just end up with the chance to go bankrupt again if things get really nasty. 

As for Sir Philip, he will now no doubt say that he always insisted that he would “sort” the problem, and that he has made good on that promise. Whether he would have done so in the absence of such a big fuss remains a moot point.

But it still doesn’t reflect well on him that BHS staff were put through months of unnecessary worry while the very public spat between Sir Philip, and Mr Field, the regulator, old Uncle Tom Cobley and all, played out.

Despite that fact, I rather doubt the ad hoc Honours Forfeiture Committee will be sitting to consider the case of Sir Philip’s Sir anytime soon, despite Parliament’s unanimous vote to strip him of it. Does this mean we’ve established £363m as the going rate for a knighthood?

Ain’t British democracy grand. 

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