The government has fast-tracked an investigation into the circumstances surrounding BHS collapsing into administration last week.
Business secretary Sajid David announced the inquiry today, which will be handled by the Insolvency Service.
He asked that the investigation looks at the conduct of the directors at the point of its insolvency, but also of any individuals who were previously directors and whether their actions may have caused detriment to its creditors, including employees who are owed money. It will also look at the pension protection fund.
“I have asked the Insolvency Service to bring forward its investigation rather than wait three months for the administrators to report before launching their inquiry,” said Javid.
”This investigation will look at the conduct of the directors at the time of insolvency and any individuals who were previously directors. Any issues of misconduct will be taken very seriously.”
If the investigation finds that one or more present or former directors have been involved in any misconduct, the Insolvency Service can disqualify a director for up to 15 years.
In a separate development, it emerged this weekend that Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley is back in the frame as a potential new owner for BHS, after previous talks failed and the chain fell into administration on March 9.
The sportswear mogul has pledged to save BHS’s 11,000 jobs and keep its 164 stores open.
However, retail analyst Nick Bubb said this would be a tall order: “I can see why he may be interested but you still have the basic problem of how you make money out of BHS. I’d be surprised if the whole thing survives and it doesn’t sound like a recipe to print money, which is perhaps what Mike Ashley needs at the moment.”
Ashley was in talks to acquire the business before its collapse but it is thought a deal failed to materialise due to the pension deficit, which stands at £571m.
Administrators Duff & Phelps confirmed there have been more than 50 expressions of interest, which are understood to include Edinburgh Woollen Mill founder Philip Day, South African retail billionaire Christo Wiese, property owner Yousuf Bhailok and Matalan chairman and former Asda chief executive Allan Leighton.
A source told Drapers the administrators are hoping to make a decision this week.
Philip Duffy, joint administrator from Duff & Phelps, confirmed that staff will continue to be paid while the group remains in administration as a priority payment. Duff & Phelps declined to comment further.
Savills has also been appointed by the administrators to advise on the retailer’s property portfolio in relation to the sale of the business as a going concern, it has been confirmed today.