MPs demand pension assurances from Sir Philip Green amid Arcadia sale reports
A powerful committee of MPs is seeking assurances over Arcadia Group's pension deficit amid reports that Sir Philip Green's retail empire could be sold to Chinese buyers.
Frank Field, chairman of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, is writing to the billionaire retail tycoon to ensure a commitment to pay down the pension deficit is included in any move to sell all - or part - of the business.
Arcadia owns a string of prominent high-street clothing brands including Topshop, Topman, Dorothy Perkins, Burton Menswear, Miss Selfridge, Outfit, Evans and Wallis.
Sir Philip is said to be plotting a sale of the group to Chinese textiles firm Shandong Ruyi, according to the Sunday Times.
Speaking to the Press Association, Mr Field said: "Our focus is on the commitment to pay down that pension deficit, and what will actually be the commitment of the new owners to the pensions.
"The committee will be writing officially and we will get a reply, I'm sure. (Sir Philip) has always complied in the past and I'm sure he will comply as a law-abiding citizen."
The Work and Pensions committee released documents from the Arcadia Schemes' trustees in April last year showing a £565 million deficit at the time of the March 31 2016 valuation.
As part of a recovery plan, Sir Philip has agreed to pay £50 million a year until August 2019 and £54.5 million from then until March 2026, in contrast to £24.3 million a year previously.
The sale speculation comes as Arcadia's owner Taveta Investments booked a 17% fall in operating profit to £211.2 million when it announced annual results in July.
The firm is among a clutch of retailers struggling with the persistently tough trading conditions engulfing the British high street.
Mr Field said the committee was forced to take action because the Pensions Regulator did not have the powers to take firms to task.
He added: "These sorts of jobs ought to be done by the Pensions Regulator.
"They ought to be looking at firms with difficult pension positions when there is a sale going on to make sure the views of the pensioners, both now and in future, are being taken into account.
"The proposal (in a report by the committee) was that the Pensions Regulator should have temporary power to haul in and look at sales like this."
The renewed pressure on Sir Philip comes after he was lambasted by MPs over the collapse of department store chain BHS.
The retailer's demise hit 11,000 jobs, 19,000 pension holders and left a £571 million black hole in the pension scheme.
Sir Philip, who sold the chain for £1 to Dominic Chappell before it plunged into administration, later agreed to pay £363 million towards the pensions deficit.
Mr Field said he was not surprised by the sale reports surrounding Arcadia Group.
The veteran Labour MP added: "Sir Philip told Dominic Chappell he could have first refusal for the rest of the empire except for Topshop.
"He clearly didn't have much regard for the rest of what he owned bar Topshop, which is the money spinner for the organisation if there is one."