Green's contrition over BHS is welcome but not the end of the matter

Sir Philip Green has now spoken publicly about the circumstances of the collapse of BHS.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 18th October 2016, 11:36 pm
Updated Tuesday, 25th October 2016, 6:26 pm
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Morning View

In an interview on ITV, the tycoon acknowledged the “hardship and sadness” caused to people who had worked at the high street retailer.

Sir Philip admitted that serial bankrupt Dominic Chappell was “categorically the wrong buyer” when he acquired the business for just £1. The tycoon said that “on a daily basis, I, and my family, have got to live with this horrid decision”.

While Sir Philip’s contrition is welcome, this is not even close to the end of the matter.

He says that the £400 million that he received in dividends was proportionate to the then company’s profits. In that strict context his remuneration might not be unreasonable. But the saga has served to illustrate much wider problems about the ugly side of capitalism, an economic system that is being accepted even in countries such as China that designate themselves communist but that of course has flaws.

What happened at BHS underlined the problem of conduct that is not illegal but is to say the least unseemly. The banking crisis of 2008 helped flag up this problem: huge financial rewards for people who were not merely incompetent but who in some cases inflicted grave economic damage.

The BHS episode has illustrated how someone who owns a business can extract vast amounts of money before it crumples, and in a way that seems to hasten that failure.

The juxtaposition of Sir Philip’s huge and ostentatious yacht and the stories of struggling BHS pensioners has thrown such apparent profiteering into sharp focus.

It might be that stripping Sir Philip of his knighthood is a belated and vindictive gesture, but the episode has shown once again how carefully the authorities need to think before bestowing knighthoods on people in the first place.

At the heart of such an award should be a significant record of contribution to the public good and much more than, for example, extreme personal success in business.