Liam Byrne

Source: UK Parliament

Business and Trade Committee chair Liam Byrne

Regulators should “explore every option to claw back” dividends paid by Wilko while there was a deficit in the ailing retailer’s pension scheme, the chair of the Commons Business and Trade Committee has said.

MP Liam Byrne made the call in the House of Commons on Thursday, after former Wilko chair Lisa Wilkinson was grilled by the committee earlier in the week over the retail chain’s collapse.

“On Tuesday we finally had answers from Lisa Wilkinson about the mistakes that led to the collapse of that much-loved firm,” said Byrne.

“But Miss Wilkinson was not able to answer why 70% of the profits in the last four years were paid out in dividends to family trusts while the deficit in the pension fund mounted to £50m.

“Will the secretary of estate ensure regulators explore every option to claw back those dividends so Wilko pensioners are not short-changed?”

Wilkinson had told the committee that from 2017 dividends had been paid into Amalgamated Holdings Wilkinson Ltd, which invested in startup businesses. She said AHWL’s shareholders were “a series of family trusts”.

She said there were no resources in AHWL which could be used to plug the Wilko pension hole because “they are tied up in other things and my understanding is, as a director of AHWL, I have legal obligations to act in the best interest of AHWL, having taken into account its stakeholders”.

She said the assets of AHWL would also not be sufficient to plug the pension hole, and were visible on Companies House.

Responding to Byrne, business minister Kevin Hollinrake, said: “The Insolvency Service is looking at this, is looking at the director’s conduct report from PwC, the administrators.

“It has been clear in that report so far they have no evidence of director misconduct but there is further work ongoing.

“Insolvency services are due to meet the administrators PwC in January and we’ll look at that situation as it unfolds.”