The Pensions Regulator is understood to have blocked plans two years ago by Sir Philip Green to restructure BHS and inject funds into the pension scheme.
The BBC’s Newsnight programme reported on Friday that Project Thor, as Green christened it, would have involved a restructure of BHS and would have put significant funds into the pension scheme, including £80m of his own money.
It was claimed, however, that the regulator would not allow the restructure to go through. According to Newsnight, after months of discussing the plans, the “global economy changed and the project was shelved”.
One year later, Green sold BHS for £1 to Retail Acquisitions.
The BHS pension scheme black hole would cost the Pension Protection Fund £280m to make good, while the buy-out value of the scheme would be £571m.
However, independent pensions consultant John Ralfe told Newsnight that Green “failed to take a very simple option”, which would have allowed him to restructure the pension debt.
He said: “If you are Philip Green and you are thinking about selling a subsidiary of the pensions scheme, and doing that could increase the risk of the scheme, there is a very straightforward mechanism you can use. It’s called pre-clearance.”
Ralfe explained that pre-clearance involved filling in a form on the regulator’s website, explaining the facts of the case, the potential impact on the pension scheme and what was been done to mitigate the impact.
He added: “That [mitigation] might involve putting some money in. You then get sign off from the regulator that they will not pursue you.
“I would like to ask [of Sir Philip Green], however strong your legal advice is, what was the commercial reason for not taking a bit of time and effort and trouble and getting that pre-clearance?”
The chair of the parliamentary committee charged with examining BHS’s demise, Labour MP Frank Field, told Newsnight that he had not previously known about Green’s hopes of dealing with the pensions issue and said he would look into it.