02 May, 2016
Pension chief meeting with BHS buyer lasted 30 minutes
BHS pension trustees spent just half an hour with the new owners of the department store chain before it was sold for £1 last year, it has emerged.
The admission has called into question the powers of trustees appointed to oversee pension funds and their ability to demand payment. BHS collapsed last week just a year after it was sold by billionaire Sir Philip Green to ex-racing driver and twice-bankrupt Dominic Chappell. The failure has left 11,000 jobs on the line.
A row has erupted over the £571 million pension deficit which is now in the hands of the Pension Protection Fund, leaving staff facing cuts to future pension pay-outs.
BHS pension trustee chairman Chris Martin declined to comment on the exact length of the meeting with the new buyers, but it is believed to have lasted no more than 30 minutes.
He said: 'My meetings with Retail Acquisitions Limited were very short and details around the plans were very brief.
'I made them aware of the size of the pension scheme deficit. Generally, in my experience, that would have caused some concern to a purchaser.
They were buying a loss-making business and they were being told they needed to pay £20 million a year in contributions.'
Martin insisted that trustees have 'no legal power' to block a sale. He said: 'At the moment there does seem to be a weakness in the system that doesn't allow trustees to do anything more than warn people what might happen.
'This is a very unusual set of circumstances. Why would you take on a defined benefit scheme with a multi-million-pound deficit? You'd leave it with the seller.'
Lord Myners, the former City minister, has blasted the BHS pension trustees, the Pensions Regulator and Green.
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