The chair of parliament’s work and pensions committee has called on regulators to intervene against the “dumping” of a retirement scheme for current and former workers at Bernard Matthews, the turkey producer, as part of a takeover deal.
Frank Field – who has led calls for former BHS chief executive Sir Philip Green to rectify the black hole in that company’s pension fund – spoke out against a deal that will see the Bernard Matthews retirement scheme being passed on to an industry-backed safety net for the pensions of insolvent companies.
The company was put up for sale in June by Rutland Partners, a private equity investor, and is being bought by Ranjit Boparan, the tycoon behind Harry Ramsden’s restaurants and Goodfella’s pizzas.
However, Field has spoken out following reports that the sale involves a so-called pre-pack administration deal which would see the Bernard Matthews pension fund pass to the government-backed Pension Protection Fund.
Hundreds of members of the Bernard Matthews defined benefit scheme, which is said to have a deficit of approximately £16m, face having their retirement payments cut as a result.
“The new employer must not be allowed to get away with dumping the Bernard Matthews pension scheme into which workers have paid,” Field told Sky News.
“The Pensions Regulator needs to act robustly and quickly to stop such activities being mimicked by other asset buyers who wish to dump pension liabilities.
“We cannot have firms changing ownership at the price of pensions being dumped with the Pension Protection Fund – such dumping involves promises being broken, and the cuts in benefit that result.”
Rutland Partners, which also owns Pizza Hut and the electronics chain Maplin, bought Bernard Matthews, Europe’s largest turkey producer, in 2013.
The company, known for the “bootiful” catchphrase, was named after its charismatic founder, who died in 2010, aged 80, with an estimated fortune of £300m. He began his professional life as a trainee livestock auctioneer in Norwich.
Britain’s largest trade union, Unite, which represents 450 of the company’s 2,000-strong workforce, have been calling on it to reassure staff about their futures after the company was put up for sale.