Theresa May to 'reform capitalism' after Philip Green BHS scandal

Theresa May, speaking at the Girl Summit

Theresa May wants to reform capitalism and stamp out irresponsible corporate behaviour after the scandal over Sir Philip Green’s stewardship of the failed department chain BHS, Downing Street has said.

The prime minister’s spokeswoman said on Monday the government planned to take action, after a damning report by MPs into the collapse of BHS said the retailer had fallen prey to the “unacceptable face of capitalism”.

Asked what May would do to curb corporate greed, she said: “The prime minister has already set out that we need to tackle corporate irresponsibility, reform capitalism so that it works for everyone not just the privileged few. That means in the long run doing more to prevent irresponsible and reckless behaviour and look carefully at the policies linked to that and work at the best way forward.”

The spokeswoman would not be drawn on what it meant to reform capitalism, other than saying there would be an approach “to make sure everyone shares in the country’s economic benefits and growth”.

May talked in her autumn party conference speech of 2013 about wanting the Conservatives to be a party for all “by reforming capitalism and making sure our economy works for all of us”, without specifying exactly how this would be done.

In that speech, she mentioned the public’s “anger about companies that evade taxes and excessive corporate pay”, with people feeling the system does not seem to be working for the whole country.

The Financial Times reported on Monday that May was considering drawing up legislation to curb excessive boardroom pay and improve corporate governance.

She has set out plans to have worker representatives on company boards and make shareholder votes on director remuneration binding rather than advisory.

The issue has become a pressing problem for May in her first weeks as prime minister after the collapse of BHS.

There have been calls for Green to lose his knighthood after the report by the House of Commons work and pensions committee laid the blame for BHS’s predicament squarely at his feet.

Frank Field, chairman of the committee, told the BBC on Monday that Green was somebody “who behaves like Napoleon”, plundered BHS, and must now pay out at least £571m to fund the pensions hole left behind.

The Labour MP said Green’s behaviour had been worse than that of Robert Maxwell, the media tycoon and Daily Mirror owner who died in 1991 after falling from his yacht in the Canary Islands.

Owen Smith, the Labour leadership challenger, and Jon Trickett, the shadow business secretary, called for Green to be stripped of his honour, which is under review.

Smith said it exposed “the level of incompetence and corporate irresponsibility at the heart of BHS’s leadership … Sir Philip Green’s greed has cost thousands of people their jobs and put tens of thousands of people’s pensions at risk. Despite this, Sir Philip has shown no contrition for the damage he has done or the suffering he has caused.

“The Tories should take immediate action to hold Sir Philip Green to account, starting with stripping him of his knighthood and making sure he makes a proper contribution to cover the black hole in the current pension fund.”

Trickett also called for the knighthood to be stripped but highlighted irresponsible behaviour that went wider than just Green. He said: “The select committee’s damning report shows how Phillip Green extracted millions from BHS over 15 years and then sold it to a bankruptee who went on to receive further millions from the company.

“But a range of well-known accountancy, banking and other companies who had a duty to provide professional independent advice failed to prevent the actions described in the report.

“This left 11,000 loyal hardworking people without a job and a massive pension deficit. No one should be allowed to keep a knighthood after such actions. He must also pay back the millions of pounds to the pension fund.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Rowena Mason Deputy political editor, for theguardian.com on Monday 25th July 2016 13.26 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010