Transcripts from the recent evidence sessions of the Parliamentary Committee on the BHS collapse have made for exciting reading. But for trustees (and former trustees) they are a worrying development. The possibility that they might be called to explain and defend their actions and decisions, often taken many years ago, in an unfamiliar yet public arena must be a distinctly uncomfortable prospect.

The BHS trustees – including former and lay trustees, as well as the professional trustees – were grilled with detailed questions on issues such as:

  • their training and appointment;
  • the extent to which they examined the various restructurings and sales being proposed at different stages and considered whether they were a good deal for members;
  • the timings of their dealings with the Pensions Regulator;
  • their meetings with the employer and the influence of the employer on scheme investment decisions;
  • their analysis of the length of, and risks in, the recovery plan and their reviews of investment strategy and acceptance of risk;
  • conflicts between their roles as trustees and as employees;
  • appointment of advisers.

Comments & Actions

  • Trustees may want to take a fresh look at some of the governance issues raised by the Committee sessions, particularly how conflicts are handled for trustees who are also employees; the need to become more involved in corporate sales where clearance is not sought; scrutiny of adviser appointments; and regularity of trustee meetings.