‘Nuclear deterrent’ call to prevent pension disasters

Sir Philip Green
Sir Philip Green

Bosses like Sir Philip Green should face “nuclear deterrent” punitive fines for avoiding pension responsibilities to avoid a BHS-style “disaster” happening again, an influential group of MPs has said.

The Commons Work and Pensions Committee said stronger regulatory powers would give Sir Philip a far stronger incentive to make good on his promise to “sort” the £571 million BHS pension fund black hole.

The controversial tycoon is thought to have offered £250m to help plug the deficit, £100m less than The Pensions Regulator (TPR) demanded.

But the MPs said the regulator should have the power to impose fines that could treble the amount payable towards covering a pension scheme deficit.

That would mean TPR could threaten Sir Philip with a fine of up to £1 billion unless he paid his contribution.

The power would act as such a strong deterrent to avoiding responsibilities that it would never have to be used in practice, the committee’s report on defined benefit pension schemes said.

Labour MP and committee chair Frank Field said: “It is difficult to imagine the Pensions Regulator would still be having to negotiate with Sir Philip Green if he had been facing a bill of £1bn, rather than £350m.

“He would have sorted the pension scheme long ago.”

The committee made a number of other recommendations insisting responsible employers have “nothing to fear” from the proposals.

Instead of “clunky” intervention; often coming when a company pension scheme is in severe distress or has already collapsed, they said TPR should be reformed into a “nimbler, more proactive” regulator to intervene sooner when company pension schemes appear to be in difficulty and before problems mount up.

The regulator should “never again” take two years to intervene in a pension negotiation that concludes with a 23-year deficit reduction plan, as in the case of BHS.

Instead, recovery plans of more than 10 years should be “exceptional”, and the Government should consult on new rules for situations where TPR clearance of major corporate takeovers or transactions is mandatory rather than voluntary.