21st October 2016
The House of Commons is never more absurd than when kicking a man when he is down. Sir Philip Green is finished, one of the most unpopular men in Britain, barely safe even on his own yacht. Indulged, pampered and praised for decades, his life’s work is in ruins. And all MPs can do is call him “a spiv” and vote to strip him of his knighthood, which is not even in their gift. It shows where MPs’ priorities lie, in reputation and baubles.
As the Green empire unravelled over the past year, one thing became glaring. Every branch of the establishment let him get away with his greed. MPs devote an entire day to debating the man, yet all they seem to care about is his honour.
Why no castigation of Green’s factotum chairman, Lord Grabiner? Could it be that he is also a “distinguished” member of the other house of parliament? Why no examination of the antics of Green’s other patsy non-executives during the sale of BHS to the former bankrupt, Dominic Chappell? Perhaps too many MPs are also gracing the boards of enterprises.
Shouldn’t there be government examination of the role of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), accountants to the great and good, whose duty is to protect the shareholders and employees of these corporations from the wilder shores of predatory capitalism? PwC received £2m in audit fees over the critical six years of BHS’s decline, plus £9m for “consultancy”. We might wonder whether perhaps the latter money could be seen to obfuscate the former, which looks like a conflict of interest.
As accountancy professor Prem Sikka wrote of the saga in The Accountant about this matter: “No auditor is going to advance his/her career by being sceptical or robust and losing such a lucrative client.” This is utterly unsatisfactory. So where is the regulator, the Financial Reporting Council? The answer, as Sikka points out, could look like in the pocket of the big accounting firms which always escape these fiascos scot free.
How can the tax affairs of the Green family and its companies have passed muster for a decade with HMRC? Is it because HMRC has a revolving door with the accountancy profession?
And where in the Commons was there castigation of Goldman Sachs, the firm that put its gilded stamp of approval on the transfer of BHS to Chappell? A first-year banking student could see this deal appeared to ditch losses and shaft pensioners.
Why do MPs not call to strip Grabiner of his peerage? Why not demand a ban on public sector consultancies for the useless PwC? Why not exclude Goldman Sachs from all further Whitehall contracts? Are these questions above the pay grade of our poor MPs?
It is not capitalism that is rotten just now, but its frothing-at-the-mouth guardians.