More than a third of 8.4m BHS loan went to four directors

Guardian understands quartet from Retail Acquisitions Limited shared £3m days after buying struggling department store chain

BHS could implement job cuts as part of effort to turn company fortunes around. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

More than a third of an £8.4m loan taken out of BHS by its new owners in March last year went to four directors who were part of the consortium, handing them a multimillion-pound windfall just days after buying the struggling department store chain.

The Guardian understands that £3m was shared between four directors of Retail Acquisitions Limited – Dominic Chappell, the man who led the buyout of BHS, Eddie Parladorio, Mark Tasker and Stephen Bourne, who has since resigned. Chappell is thought to have received the largest portion of the funds.

Retail Acquisitions took the loan out of BHS days after buying the business for £1 from Sir Philip Green. It has said the loan was for professional and financing fees.

The payment to the directors is likely to anger landlords who are being asked to accept significant cuts to their rent by BHS, as well as hundreds of staff who could lose their jobs in the retailer’s head office and shops. Retail Acquisitions is a consortium of little-known financiers, lawyers and accountants. Chappell has been declared bankrupt twice.

The loan was paid out to Retail Acquisitions before the new leadership team of BHS was formed. That team, led by Darren Topp, the chief executive, is trying to turn the company around through a company voluntary arrangement and a restructuring of its pension fund.

The pension fund had a deficit of £207m at the time of the last published accounts, although a triennial valuation scheduled to be completed by the end of June is expected to show it is now significantly more than this.

BHS is in discussions about it entering the Pension Protection Fund, a lifeboat for schemes connected to struggling businesses. As part of the restructuring, Green, the former owner of BHS, could pay £80m into the scheme. This would include £40m in cash and £40m as a loan from his retail business Arcadia, secured against assets.

BHS’s pension fund has more than 20,000 members, with the retailer employing more than 10,000 people.

At the same time as trying to restructure its pension scheme, BHS wants to cut the rent on half of its 164 shops through an insolvency procedure.

A CVA allows a company in financial difficulty to reach a deal with creditors, including landlords, to reduce its liabilities while still trading. They are legal but controversial in the property industry because they allow a company to walk away from its lease obligations.

BHS has split its properties into three categories in the CVA: 77 stores that are unaffected; 47 stores that it claims are viable but need a reduction in rent to “market levels”; and 40 that need a substantial reduction in rent to survive.

The rent reductions it has proposed are significant. Of the 47 “viable” shops, BHS wants the rent to be cut by 75% on 21 stores and 50% on 26 stores. For the struggling 40 shops it wants to pay just 25% of the rent for the next 10 months while it tries to reach a long-term deal that secures their survival.

The agreement must be approved by 75% of BHS’s creditors at a meeting scheduled for 23 March.

BHS’s demands on the 40 struggling sites are so significant that the survival of all its stores is unlikely. Savills, the property agent, has been brought in to assist tax experts KPMG and could dispose of unwanted stores.

If stores close it could lead to the loss of thousands of jobs. BHS has already announced that 370 jobs will be lost as part of an overhaul of its head office and store management structure.

BHS told staff on Friday that it intends to make 220 people redundant in stores and a further 150 in head office. In addition, BHS will scrap another 100 roles that had not been filled in its head office in recent months, meaning its central operations will shrink by roughly by a third.

The restructuring has been dubbed internally as Project Pipe by KPMG and BHS. Documents relating to it include draft accounts for BHS up to 24 February this year, which show the loan between the retailer and Retail Acquisitions.

Retail Acquisitions said: “As a matter of policy, and commercial obligations, we do not disclose information relating to professional fees and financial transaction costs.”

BHS said: “It is a question for [Retail Acquisitions Ltd] not BHS.”

[Source:- The Gurdian]