Theresa May vows to protect pensions from 'irresponsible bosses'


Theresa May has revealed plans to stop "irresponsible bosses" bringing about a repeat of the BHS scandal which saw retail tycoon Sir Philip Green branded the "unacceptable face of capitalism".

The party's general election manifesto will contain a commitment to give the Pensions Regulator new powers to scrutinise takeovers or "unsustainable" dividend payments that threaten the solvency of a company pension scheme.

"In extreme cases" the regulator could be given new powers to block takeovers.

Sir Philip faced widespread calls to be stripped of his knighthood over his alleged role in the collapse of BHS, which he owned for 15 years before selling it to serial bankrupt Dominic Chappell for £1 in 2015

The Topshop owner came under fire for taking more than £400 million in dividends from the chain, leaving it with a £571 million pension deficit and for selling it to a man with no retail experience.

The billionaire has now agreed to pay £363 million to settle the BHS pension scheme.

The scandal appears to have prompted the Prime Minister to beef up the regulator in a move which will be seen as a step towards her goal of creating a "country that works for everyone".

Mrs May said: "Today I am setting out our plans, if elected, to ensure the pensions of ordinary working people are protected against the actions of unscrupulous company bosses.

"Safeguarding pensions to ensure dignity in retirement is about security for families, and it's another example of the choice in this election.

"Strong and stable leadership delivering for Britain, or a coalition of chaos led by Jeremy Corbyn, which can't get the right deal for Brexit, and risks our growing economy with higher taxes, fewer jobs, more waste and more debt."

The regulator would also be able to impose large fines on bosses who "wilfully left a scheme under-resourced", and company directors could be struck off in more serious cases.

The Tories will also consider a new law to make it illegal to intentionally or recklessly put a pension scheme at risk .

It comes as Mrs May prepares for her first major broadcast interviews of the campaign on Sunday.

She is likely to come under pressure to explain how her commitment to Brexit and "making a success of it" is affected by the European Union's rejection of the Government's pleas for parallel exit and trade negotiations.

On Saturday, the other 27 EU leaders agreed their final negotiating guidelines, including an insistence on a "phased" approach.

The key "phase one" issues to be resolved before trade talks can start are the rights of EU citizens in the UK and British expats in Europe, the disputed "divorce bill" - estimated at a potential £50 billion - and the thorny question of how to maintain a free-flowing Irish border.

Ahead of the TV clashes, Mrs May used an interview with the Mail on Sunday to criticise "weak, unstable, nonsensical and floundering" Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn".

"Labour has launched seven Brexit plans," she said.

"They say conflicting things in the same sentence, let alone an hour or a day or a week afterwards. Jeremy Corbyn can't even persuade 172 of his MPs to have confidence in him."

Mr Corbyn on Saturday attacked Mrs May for running a campaign with a "presidential bunker mentality" that is reliant on "simple slogans", such as her campaign mantra to provide "strong and stable leadership".

But the PM brushed off the criticism with a rare joke, telling the newspaper: "It's important, when walking up mountains, always to feel strong and stable," a reference to her deciding to call a snap election while on an Easter walking holiday with husband Philip.

Meanwhile, Labour has announced a 20-point plan to end the "rigged economy" in the workplace, including new employment rights and an end to the public sector pay cap.

The plans include giving workers full employment rights on day one, civil enforcement of gender pay auditing, strengthening protections for women against unfair redundancy, and protections against third party harassment.

Mr Corbyn is not expected to appear on the Sunday political programmes, instead travelling to Telford to address the National Association of Head Teachers conference.

It will be left to shadow chancellor John McDonnell to explain Labour's plans to strengthen workers' rights.

Mr McDonnell said: "These policies will be the cornerstone of the next Labour government's programme to bring an end to the rigged economy that many experience in workplaces across Britain.

"The scandal of six million people earning less than the living wage, and four million children growing up in poverty are not inevitable. It only takes a change of government to bring these outrages to an end."