Green must restore BHS pension shortfalls in full

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

A demeaning feature of the honours system of recent years has been the speed with which some people who suddenly flare into public life are given recognition.

Sometimes it is because they have achieved rapid and spectacular sporting success. Sometimes it is because they have achieved great success in a sphere such as business while achieving major publicity at the same time.

While it is of course appropriate to recognise outstanding success in a wide range of walks of life, it is worrying when the state seeks to align itself with people who are, perhaps momentarily, popular. The honours system ideally should be recognising people who have made sustained contributions to public life over a long period of time.

And yet regardless of how rigorous the system is, mistakes will be made in the granting of honours. It is necessary therefore to have the capacity to recall honours from people who have later shown themselves to be manifestly unworthy of them. The stripping of honours from a number of famous names for a range of different reasons over the last decade has helped stigmatise their conduct.

Sir Philip Green has a long and impressive record as a businessman. His handling of BHS, however, has looked ugly. While it is entirely legal to own a company outright and extract huge amounts of cash, it is usually reprehensible to do so if it ruins the business. Such conduct is obviously contemptible if it impacts on the pensions of the staff.

That Sir Philip has left BHS in ruins while at the same time ostentatiously flaunting his obscene wealth shows him to be an undeserving recipient of a knighthood.

If he makes up the hundreds of millions of pounds pension shortfall in full, then he will at least have acquitted himself. But even if that does happen and the knighthood stays, it will not show he was a worthy recipient in the first place – merely that he finally did the decent thing when faced with public outrage and personal shame.