Here’s an interview our CEO did last night in response to the House of Commons vote calling for Sir Philip Green to be stripped of his knighthood:
Click here to listen to the interview and you can read a rough transcript below.
I suspect it’s been a pretty uncomfortable day for him be honest, he’s been on the receiving end of a right pasting from MP’s in the Commons. I wouldn’t be surprised if he now pays up in the hope that he will avoid losing his knighthood. It’s time for him to put a price on his gong I think.
So the million-dollar question, or 400 million-pound question (that’s how much he took out of BHS in dividends) is, will Sir Philip put his hand in his pocket to save his gong.
There is however a potential issue here in that it could be seen as a form of cash for honours if he is allowed to keep his gong having chucked a few hundred million in to the BHS pension pot.
Although I don’t believe he is legally obliged to plug the 500 million-pound odd pension shortfall, he had a moral duty to act responsibly and do the right thing, after all around 11,000 staff lost their jobs. If he had offered to give back some of the 400 or so million he took in dividends, to help sort the pension deficit I don’t think he would be facing this Commons vote today. The 400 million was sitting in the cash reserves and could have been used to clear the majority of the pensions deficit.
I think the social prestige for him, and importantly his wife, of being Sir and Lady Green are worth a few hundred million. To a billionaire like Sir Philip that’s equivalent to the price of a long weekend in Brighton to most people and the BHS staff.
Back in summer when the BHS closure came to light, instead of lying low, Sir Philip headed straight for his £100m super-yacht, sailed around the hot spots of Europe, and moored his boat a few metres from the water’s edge in full view of the worlds media while the BHS staff where being laid off and their lives where in turmoil. That’s tantamount to sticking two fingers up at the 11,000 staff who lost their jobs and irritated a lot of people. He then got upset with a Sky News reporter who approached him at the waters edge.
It’s a shame it’s come to this, it could have been avoided. Although I have great respect for what Sir Philip has achieved in retail overall, he did say a few months ago that he would see the BHS pensioners right, but nothing has happened since. He’s been given plenty of time to sort it but says he is still in discussions with the pensions regulator. I’m not sure what there is to discuss other than where his cheque book is, assuming he must have lost it. This is the unacceptable face of entrepreneurialism and capitalism – although I admire him overall he’s made a bad call on this one.
Although the Commons voted for Sir Philip to striped of his gong, they don’t have power to directly do that themselves, that’s down to the Honours Forfeiture Committee. Although the outcome of the debate isn’t binding – it will significantly increase the pressure on that committee to take action.
The Honours Forfeiture Committee is an ad-hoc committee headed up by Jeremy Heywood, the Head of the Civil Service. If their recommendation is that the honour should be withdrawn, the recommendation is sent to The Queen, via the Prime Minister, who makes the final decision.
There are two black and white reasons why someone could be stripped of their honour, although the over-riding question is has Philip Green brought the honours system in to disrepute?
The first reason someone could be stripped of their gong is if they were sent to prison for at least three months for a criminal offence and secondly censured or struck off by a professional or regulatory body for something directly relevant to their honour. So, given that Philip Green received his knighthood for services to retail industry, and has had his knuckles wrapped by an official parliamentary inquiry for his conduct in the BHS saga, which is directly relevant to his honour, he could in theory lose it.
114 people have had their honours taken away over the last hundred years so its not very common. One of the most recent major figures to lose an honour was Rolf Harris of course, stripped of his CBE after conviction for indecent assault.
The list includes a fine array of nasty dictators including the likes of Robert Mugabe, Nicolae Ceaucescu and Benito Mussolini who were all stripped of honorary knighthoods in their lifetime. Not quite sure how they got them in the first place, but there you are. Jockey Lester Piggott, was stripped of his OBE in 1987 for tax fraud and Royal Bank of Scotland boss Fred Goodwin, whose role in the bank’s near-collapse resulted in him losing his knighthood. There’s also James Crosby, the ex-Halifax Bank boss who was stripped of his knighthood for the poor way he ran the bank too. Stuart Hall, the TV presenter, lost his for indecent assault.