Frank Field raises questions over “potential conflict of interests” in sale of Bernard Matthews

Labour MP Frank Field PA Wire

Labour MP Frank Field PA Wire - Credit: PA

Questions have been raised about a 'potential conflict of interests' between Bernard Matthews administrator Deloitte and the entrepreneur who snapped up the Turkey giant in a pre-pack administration.

Frank Field, who heads the influential cross-party Work and Pensions select committee, has written to Deloitte LLP and entrepreneur Ranjit Boparan asking if pension trustees had been aware that Deloitte provided tax and corporate finance advice to Mr Boparan in return for substantial fees.

The questions come after it emerged last month that 150 jobs could go at the Bernard Matthews factory and head office.

Mr Field's House of Commons committee is probing the deal after the company's pension scheme was passed to the industry-funded lifeboat, the Pension Protection Fund (PPF), when it was acquired by a company owned by Mr Boparan, the 2 Sisters food entrepreneur in September in a pre-pack administration.

That deal transferred the company's assets to the new owner, but not its debts and left Bernard Matthews' creditors £23m out of pocket.

At the time, a spokesman for the Boparan Private Office said the deal had protected the jobs of 2,000 staff. But it emerged last month that 150 jobs were now under threat.

Mr Field raised new questions about the deal in the two letters made public this evening.

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In a letter to Daniel Butters at Deloitte LLP, Mr Field claimed there was a 'significant relationship' between Mr Boparan and Deloitte, which acted as his auditor and provided advice on tax, corporate finance and other matters 'in return for substantial fees'.

'We note that the administrators report of 3 October 2016 says virtually nothing about any prior relationship with the purchaser of Bernard Matthews. Such a dual role raises the question of a potential conflict of interests affecting the welfare of all creditors, including the pension scheme,' Mr Field said in his letter.

He questioned why the potential conflict was not disclosed in the administrator's report and if it had been disclosed to pension trustees, the PPF and the court which approved Deloitte's appointment as administrator.

In his letter to Mr Boparan, Mr Field also questioned what assurances had been given to employees at Bernard Matthews about their pensions and jobs at the time of the purchase.

He said the news that 150 employees were to be made redundant was 'bad news' and 'may well be seen as a breach of trust' after Deloitte had claimed the sale preserved the employment of over 1,8000 employees.

He also questioned if Mr Boparan or anybody from his company had agreed or offered to make any contribution to the Bernard Matthews pension fund.

A spokesman for Mr Boparan's office said: 'We note Mr Field's correspondence to us and will be responding fully in due course so he is in possession of all the relevant facts.'

Deloitte and 2 Sisters group have both been approached for a comment.