Anna Soubry – 2016 Statement on BHS

CBI Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Anna Soubry in the House of Commons on 25 April 2016.

Thank you very much Madame Deputy Speaker and with your permission I would like to make a statement to update the House on the latest position following the announcement this morning that British Home Stores has filed for administration.

This is obviously a very difficult time for all the employees, somewhere between 8,500 thousand perhaps as many as 11,000 people work in their many stores across the UK. Of course we bear in mind the fact that it’s also very difficult time for the many creditors who will be concerned especially with those with small businesses.

BHS, is a name synonymous with British high streets for over 80 years and has been an important player in the history of British retail. The company still has a significant high street presence with 164 stores nationwide, as I say with somewhere around 8,500 to 11,000 employees. I recognize that consumer trends are changing moving away from high street shopping and increasingly towards online retail channels, which continues to see the retail landscape change.

Today – and the last few days of media speculation – as I say have been particularly troubling for BHS’s workers and their families. There is a clear message going out to all staff today, and that is that BHS is still open for business as usual. There are no plans for immediate redundancies or store closures, and that the administrators are looking to sell BHS as a going concern.

If this proves not to be possible, then the Government will obviously stand ready to offer its assistance, including through Jobcentre Plus’ Rapid Response Service, to help people move into new jobs as quickly as possible.

Now there has been a lot of comment and speculation about the BHS pension scheme. It is the fact the pension regulator is investigating a number of concerns and indeed allegations. I understand the BHS scheme is in the early stage of a Pension Protection Fund (PPF) assessment, during which time the PPF will determine the final funding position of the scheme and whether it should assume responsibility for it.

Madame Deputy Speaker the retail sector is a crucial one for the UK economy. The total value of retail sales (excluding fuel) in 2015 was £340 billion. The value of retail sales has increased every year for the last twelve years, though in 2015 volume of sales grew faster than values indicating a decline in prices overall. The sector accounts for 3 million jobs; almost a third of those employees are under 25.

We intend to ensure that this success continues. In the budget this year the Government announced the biggest ever cut in business rates in England, worth £6.7bn over the next 5 years.

But with that and other matters I commend this statement to the house.