Wigan shoppers today reacted with anger at sadness at a report which suggests more could have been done to save one of the town’s major retailers.
BHS in the Grand Arcade closed on Saturday, and within four weeks every last outlet of the once-great chain will have shut after the business went into a catastrophic downward spiral.
Former BHS boss Sir Philip Green was yesterday branded the “unacceptable face of capitalism” as a parliamentary inquiry found he systematically extracted huge sums from the collapsed store group while leaving its pension fund in deficit.
In a withering joint report, two House of Commons select committees accused the entrepreneur of seeking to blame anyone but himself for the firm’s failure and said he has a “moral duty” to make a “large financial contribution” to the 20,000 pensioners facing substantial cuts to their benefits.
While the committees were damning about Dominic Chappell, who bought BHS for £1, and the “directors, advisers and hangers-on” associated with the deal, they said ultimate responsibility lay with Sir Philip.
Although his family had accrued “incredible wealth” from their early, profitable years of owning BHS – while paying little in tax – Sir Philip had failed to invest in the company and refused to address the “substantial and unsustainable deficit” in the pension fund.
The two committees – Work and Pensions and Business, Innovation and Skills – said it was “inconceivable” Sir Philip had not realised Mr Chappell, a former bankrupt with no retail experience, was a “manifestly unsuitable” buyer and that he had “acted to conceal the true state of the BHS pension problem” from him.
Outside the now empty Grand Arcade unit today, Wigan shoppers spoke out.
Mike Collier, from Hindley, said: “It’s a terrible shame. There are types of shops that have had their day because of changing trends like shopping online, but it does look like BHS could have survived a lot longer if it had been properly looked after.
“I hope the Grand Arcade can quickly find a replacement tenant. We don’t want to see this shopping centre going the same way as the Galleries.”
Gina Wood, from Shevington, said: “It’s the staff I feel for, especially if there’s a problem with their pensions. It looks like Sir Philip has a huge responsibility to dip into his own pockets and bail them out. It’s the least he can do.”
And Bill Gordon from Ince added: “There has been a British Homes Stores in Wigan for years. It’s terrible how it has been run into the ground. Those responsible must pay.”