Opinion from Lord Digby Jones

Behave in a way that enables people to be proud of business ….

Published Tuesday 26 July, 2016

British business finds itself in the dock today because of the collapse of BHS and the behaviour of Sir Philip Green, but the ‘unacceptable face of capitalism’, as MPs described it, does not mean that capitalism is to blame.

That would be grossly unfair on the vast majority of businesses who are vital to the well-being of this country.

First we must distinguish between the failure of BHS and the behaviour of Sir Philip when he sold the business.

Unfortunately, companies do fail in democratic capitalism around the world for many different reasons.

That might include management incompetence but by and large they don’t fail because someone was ‘at it’.

Woolworth failed because the buying public changed their habits and their tastes and, sadly for the 11,000 BHS staff who are losing their jobs, it might be that in this case the general public simply passed BHS by.

But that is different to Philip Green’s behaviour in disposing of the company

To my knowledge, I don’t think Philip Green has done anything illegal but I think that when you succeed in business, and you have a position of power and or money, that comes with responsibility.

I would say, “Come on, Philip. You knew what you were doing; you were selling this to someone who, frankly, you knew wasn’t going to be any good at it and you knew that there was a massive great pensions liability out there.”

He should have plugged that £571m hole.

This guy’s a billionaire.

“What are you going to do with the money, mate? Do you want to be the richest guy in the graveyard?”

He could have sorted this out and he could have been an emblem of responsible capitalism.

He could have said, ‘I’ve made a load of dough out of this; it’s not my fault that everyone is living longer; it’s not my fault that there is a deficit in the scheme; but I can do something about it and although I am selling the company I can make sure that the pension fund is in surplus when I leave.’

Frankly, he would not have missed that money and he would have discharged his moral duty to behave in a way that sets an example for business.

But to judge everyone else by his behaviour is wrong; 99% of the businesswomen and businessmen  in this country are as p***ed off with Sir Philip Green as I am.

They risk their houses guaranteeing bank debts; they don’t see much of their families because they are working so hard; they take risks; they provide employment for a lot of people; and they generate profits that pay tax that builds our schools and hospitals.

That is how incredibly important business is to Britain and if we allow the Corbynistas to start saying that business is rubbish then God help this country.

Nor will placing Unions on Boards (for that is what will happen; not genuine workers but full-time politically-motivated shop stewards) be the answer. Ditch that one Theresa! Corbyn in the Boardroom? Momentum passing trade secrets to those who hate capitalism? I don't think so

It’s not just the small and medium-sized enterprises. Look at the fabulous work that some massively big companies have done in Britain – Nissan, JLR, Honda, Toyota…. They behave responsibly.

The antics of Volkwagen with their emissions fiddling, or some banks, or Philip Green’s moral behaviour, or the tax affairs of companies like Amazon and Google and Facebook just gives business a bad name when actually 99% of businesses are fed up with them.

I saw that Facebook, who have turned over billions in Britain, paid £4,000 in Corporation Tax last year. Most Sun readers will have paid more tax than that.

Facebook will rightly say, ‘Just a minute, we are complying with the law here,’ so I would say to Theresa May: “Change the law!”

Change the law so tax is assessed, albeit at a lower rate, on the activity in the country not on the declared profit in the country.

I notice that Philip Green said in his evidence that they had paid every penny of tax that was due in the UK. And he was telling the truth but, of course, what he had made sure was that not a lot of tax was due in the UK.

I think we have got to change the law here so that the Googles and the Facebooks and the Philip Greens of this world can’t take advantage.

At the same time we have got to say to these people, if you want governments in any democratic society, whether here, in America or Germany or France, to actually cut you some slack and help you create wealth then you have got to meet them half way.

That might mean curbing executive pay but, one way or another, you have got to behave in a way that enables people to be proud of business because most British businesses can be very proud of themselves.