Iain Wright, the chairman of the House of Commons business select committee, said “enormous questions” had to be answered about the stewardship of the business under Sir Philip Green, and under Retail Acquisitions, which bought the department store chain from the tycoon in March 2015.
The Telegraph reports that Mr Wright, who has invited Sir Philip, his wife Lady Green, Retail Acquisitions’ chief, Dominic Chappell, and other BHS executives and advisers to give evidence in the Commons, said he wanted to establish whether the sale to Retail Acquisitions had been “appropriate”.
Mr Wright said: “We are keen to find out who knew what, when. This issue over the sale and acquisition of BHS raises enormous questions.”
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Wright pointed to the money taken out of the business by way of dividends, rent and management fees during Sir Philip’s 15-year ownership, and questioned whether there were any links between that and the retailer’s eventual £571m pension deficit.
He said: “The question that we want to ask Sir Philip Green is, ‘You bought BHS, took enormous sums out of the business, the pension scheme went from surplus to deficit and then you sold it for a pound to somebody who was twice bankrupt and who had no experience whatsoever of the retail sector – is that appropriate stewardship of a big, important company?”’
Mr Wright’s committee and the Commons work and pensions select committee will hold joint hearings into the collapse of BHS as early as next week.
Meanwhile the full extent of BHS’s recent losses will be laid bare today when prospective bidders for the concern gain access to the retailer’s most recent accounts.
The administrator, Duff & Phelps, will open the books to possible saviours as the first part of the potential sales process at the 88-year-old retailer, which collapsed a week ago.
Joint administrator Phil Duffy is in the early stages of investigating why exactly BHS collapsed, including allegations that Retail Acquisitions signed a costly loan agreement with the property magnates Guy and Alex Dellal.
Bidders for the whole business, who are led by Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct, will enter the “data room” for the retailer, which has 11,000 staff?
Mr Ashley told The Sunday Telegraph at the weekend that he hoped to keep all shops and BHS’s head office open.
Other possible bidders include the former chief executive of Asda, Allan Leighton, and Philip Day, the brains behind the Edinburgh Woollen Mill chain.
Large supermarkets such as Asda and J Sainsbury and discount chains like Aldi and Lidl are meanwhile believed to be keeping an eye on the process.
If a buyer to keep the retailer going cannot be found, the administrator is likely to sell off its property leases on a piecemeal basis to the highest bidders.