Door open for 11th-hour BHS rescue bid as job losses loom

Mrs M Pearson from Bathgate is the first customer through the doors as British Home Stores opens on Princes Street
Mrs M Pearson from Bathgate is the first customer through the doors as British Home Stores opens on Princes Street
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A TRADE union has urged BHS administrators to pull out all the stops to find an eleventh-hour purchaser for the high street giant.

Usdaw, which represents shop workers, revealed it was “encouraged” by a recent conversation suggesting the “door is still open to a buyer”.

However, it remains more likely the department chain will be divided up and sold off as rival retailers target groups of stores or individual shops in prime locations such as Princes Street.

The development comes two days after Duff and Phelps, BHS’ administrator, announced that the business would be wound down and all 163 shops nationwide closed, with the loss of 8000 jobs.

The closure of four stores, in Princes Street, Cameron Toll, Leith’s Ocean Terminal and Livingston Almondvale Shopping Centre, would see the loss of hundreds of jobs locally.

But Dave Gill, Usdaw national officer, said: “I was encouraged by a conversation I’ve had this morning with the administrators, who were keen to tell me that they hadn’t liquidated the company and, although it’s on a structured wind down, the door is still open to a buyer who can meet their criteria. I am urging the administrators to redouble their efforts.

“It’s the very least that long-serving and loyal BHS staff deserve after the shock of Thursday’s announcement.

“I have also made it clear that there is a legal requirement to consult with staff and we expect to be a part of that as the union for BHS workers.

“A failure to properly consult could force Usdaw to seek a protective award at employment tribunals, which delays staff receiving what they are rightfully entitled to and can result in the taxpayers picking up the bill.

“In the meantime, we are providing the support and advice our members in BHS require at this very difficult time.”

BHS leaves behind a £571 million pensions black hole, with the scheme set to enter the Pension Protection Fund.

A former BHS employee has begun an online campaign urging Sir Philip Green, the chain’s former owner, to make up the shortfall in the pension pot.

Lin MacMillan, who worked at BHS in the 1980s and launched a petition called “Sell the Yachts and Pay the Pensions” in April, said it was very difficult for employees to contemplate losing their jobs.

She said she had spoken to one worker in an Edinburgh store who had been with the firm for more than 40 years.

The Pensions Regulator is investigating whether Sir Philip will be made to contribute to the pension scheme.

Later this month, the House of Commons’ business, innovation and skills committee and the work and pensions committee will grill key BHS executives and Sir Philip, who sold the chain for £1 to Dominic Chappell, a former racing driver previously declared bankrupt.

Simon Walker, head of the Institute of Directors, accused Sir Philip of a “lamentable failure of behaviour”.

He said: “We spend a lot of time agonising about the loss of trust in the business community, and I think we can see why this is.

“I think there is a lamentable failure of behaviour and there are a lot of questions that need to be asked. You can’t just get yourself off the hook by selling a business to someone who’s been bankrupt three times and is a former racing driver with no retail experience.”