I was sad to hear last week that BHS is going into administration.
I worked as a Saturday girl for two years on lights and tights. I still have a lamp that I bought from the store 30 years ago to study for my A Levels. It has been with me everywhere I have lived - and works to this day. As this bastion of British retail comes under threat, my thoughts are with the 11,000 BHS staff affected and particularly those in our Wakefield store whose jobs are now at risk.
There are questions that BHS needs to answer. Last year, the company was sold by Sir Philip Green for just £1. Under its former owners the company, which has accumulated a pension black hole of £571 million, paid out hundreds of millions of pounds in dividends to shareholders. It is disappointing that the government’s business department got rid of its retail advisor this week, just as the government must get to grips with the challenges facing our high streets.
Another great British industry is in crisis, as Tata Steel announced its decision at the end of March to sell its UK business. There are 15,000 jobs directly at risk in the industry, with a further 25,000 at stake in the wider supply chain. These are the kind of high-skill, high-paid jobs that we need more of. Our world-leading automotive, aerospace and defence industries, along with our rail and construction sector, all depend on a strong and sustainable domestic steel industry, too. There are big challenges facing UK steel, but it can have a strong and sustainable future. Decisions made by this government now will determine whether it does.
The Prime Minister has said that there is “no guarantee of success” for its rescue plan. I, and my Labour colleagues, will keep up the pressure on this strategically important industry.
A web of tax avoidance schemes were revealed last month in the Panama Papers. The Prime Minister previously owned shares in an offshore investment fund which featured in the Panama Papers, and he gave information about this in a statement to the House. He should now change the register of MPs’ interests to include mandatory publication of all offshore holdings. More than half of the companies named in the Panama Papers were registered in UK-governed tax havens. By letting this slide, the Conservatives are depriving HMRC of tax revenue at while continuing to slash spending on public services. The government has failed to take action to clean up the system. We need a more robust approach.
This article was first published by the Wakefield Express on 5 May 2016.