Sir Philip Green’s TopShop empire Arcadia Group faces collapse within days
Written by Gavin on 27th November 2020
Sir Philip Green’s retail empire is facing collapse within days, putting 15,000 jobs at risk and bringing the curtain down on the high street career of one of Britain’s most controversial businessmen.
Sky News has learnt that Arcadia Group – which owns TopShop, Burton and Dorothy Perkins – is preparing to appoint administrators from Deloitte as soon as next week.
One retail industry figure said Arcadia’s collapse had become inevitable after talks with a number of lenders about an emergency £30m loan ended without success.
The appointment of administrators could happen as early as Monday, although one person close to the situation said the plan had yet to be finalised and that it could yet be delayed.
If the insolvency is confirmed, it is expected to trigger a scramble among creditors to get their hands on the company’s assets.
It would involve Arcadia’s online operations and the stores which are permitted to open under lockdown restrictions to continue trading, according to one retail figure.
Arcadia’s pension scheme is likely to have the biggest claim on proceeds generated by Deloitte, with TopShop and TopMan – the most valuable brands in Sir Philip’s empire – likely to be worth several hundred million pounds.
Bidders are likely to begin circling TopShop immediately, with Boohoo Group, the online fashion retailer, among the prospective suitors.
Some of Arcadia’s other brands face being picked up by distressed retail investors or, like prominent names such as Cath Kidston, Oasis and Warehouse, becoming online-only fashion labels.
Sir Philip is said to be unlikely to seek to buy back any of Arcadia’s trading operations from administrators.
Confirmation of the group’s administration would come after a turbulent few years in which Sir Philip’s reputation was destroyed and his fortune diminished by turmoil on the high street and, more recently, the coronavirus pandemic.
Arcadia employs about 15,000 people, having announced about 500 head office job cuts earlier this year.
It has more than 500 standalone sites, the majority of which are closed because of the second England-wide lockdown, which ends next week.
Most of the group’s employees have had their wages subsidised by the taxpayer this year under the government’s furlough scheme.
Depending upon the outcome of an insolvency process, a substantial proportion of those jobs will be jeopardised.
Earlier this month, Sky News revealed that Arcadia had approached a number of lenders about borrowing £30m to stave off collapse, while The Sunday Times reported that the company’s directors were intensifying preparations for the appointment of administrators.
In response to that report, Arcadia said there was no imminent plan to appoint administrators.
The parties approached about the emergency loan are said to have included Apollo Global Management, Secure Trust Bank and White Oak, an asset-based lender.
Arcadia’s collapse would cap one of the most spectacular implosions in recent corporate history.
Sir Philip bought the high street group in 2002 for £850m, and just three years later paid what remains one of the largest-ever dividends – £1.2bn – to his wife and Arcadia’s registered owner, Lady Tina Green.
For years, he was feted as a high street colossus, advising David Cameron on public sector waste during his period as prime minister.
In 2012, he sold a 25% stake in TopShop’s immediate holding company to Leonard Green & Partners, a private equity firm, valuing the fashion chain at £2bn.
Sir Philip was later to buy it back for just $1.
His decision to sell the department store chain BHS in 2015 for £1 to Dominic Chappell, a former bankrupt who was recently jailed for tax evasion, set off a chain of events which cost Sir Philip his reputation and much of his fortune.
BHS collapsed just a year after that deal, sparking a bitter row about Sir Philip’s responsibilities towards its pensioners.
In early 2017, Sir Philip struck a deal with pensions watchdogs to pay more than £360m to the BHS scheme and which set the tone for negotiations over Arcadia’s retirement fund two years later.
Last year, the tycoon narrowly secured approval for a company voluntary arrangement at Arcadia, but was forced to pledge a package of assets worth more than £400m to the company’s pension scheme.
Some of that funding could be jeopardised if Arcadia’s administration is confirmed in the coming days.
The Pensions Regulator and Pension Protection Fund, as well as Arcadia’s lending banks, are understood to be being kept closely informed about Arcadia’s plans.
If Arcadia does collapse, it will be the latest big high street player to fall into insolvency during a torrid 2020.
Debenhams called in administrators in April, and is in exclusive talks with JD Sports Fashion about a rescue deal, The Times reported this week.
A liquidation process is likely to get underway shortly if the discussions fall apart.
The parent company of Edinburgh Woollen Mill, Jaeger and Peacocks has also appointed administrators, putting thousands of jobs at risk.
Like its rivals, Arcadia’s brands have been hit by shifting habits among shoppers and growing consumer caution, with the COVID-19 crisis .
Sir Philip’s miserable period has not been restricted to the performance of his business interests.
He also became embroiled in a storm over his behaviour towards Arcadia employees and his use of non-disclosure agreements to prevent former workers discussing their severance packages.
Arcadia said in a statement: “We are aware of the recent media speculation surrounding the future of Arcadia.
“The forced closure of our stores for sustained periods as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has had a material impact on trading across our businesses.
“As a result, the Arcadia boards have been working on a number of contingency options to secure the future of the group’s brands.
“The brands continue to trade and our stores will be opening again in England and ROI (Republic of Ireland) as soon as the government COVID-19 restrictions are lifted next week.”
Dave Gill of the retail trade union Usdaw said : “This is a devastating blow for workers at Arcadia and could not have come at a worse time, just before Christmas.
“We are seeking urgent meetings with management and we urge them to end their longstanding anti-union stance and engage with us. In the meantime we are providing our members with the support and advice they need at this difficult time.”