Tycoon tells MPs: 'I'm not Father Christmas'
Ashley says ‘high street is dead’ in call for 20% online tax
Mike Ashley: ‘I am not God, nor Father Christmas’
Sports Direct tycoon Mike Ashley has declared the high street “dead” and that if any shops are to survive then it will mean taxing online retailers.
Mr Ashley, who also owns House of Fraser and Evans Cycles, as well as a big stake in Debenhams, told MPs that retail had to change, evolving to meet the needs of the modern click and collect shopper.
“The mainstream High Street is dead. They’re dead. The patient is dead”, he said during questions from the cross-party Housing, Communities and Local Government committee in the Commons.
Mr Ashley said the government “needs to tax the internet – not just the pure play internet – you need to tax the internet for the good of the High Street”.
He proposed a tax on companies who generate 20% of revenues from the internet. That would encourage retailers to stock more on the High Street to avoid paying the tax.
Mike Ashley reckoned that stores should move towards “click and collect” and that offering vouchers to shoppers to entice them to collect their goods would help sales.
But he told the MPs that they need to do their part by introducing free parking.
Premier club sale: Mr Ashley is said to be in talks to sell Newcastle United and expects a deal to go through before the January transfer window for English Premier League Clubs.
In an interview, the billionaire businessman told Sky News that the talks were not yet “exclusive” but were “at a more progressed stage than they have ever been”.
Mr Ashley has owned Newcastle United since 2007.
Responding to questions about House of Fraser he said he “never, never, never” said that he would keep 59 stores open.
“What person could keep 59 stores open but God,” he says. He added: “I’m not comparing myself to God,” and also said he was “not Father Christmas”.
He said he had no intention of being painted as a pantomime villain over alleged working practices at his stores and that he was there to discuss the future of the high street.
“The High Street has to change what it offers consumers – I can guarantee what is has offered in the past will not be what is needed in the future,” he said.
He also criticised retail rents which he said were “prehistoric” and were set before the internet. Together with business rates it was a “draconian” structure put in place before anyone could have foreseen the threat of online retail, he argued.
Former Tesco chief executive Sir Terry Leahy, speaking later in a radio interview, disagreed that the high street is dead, but acknowledged that retail had to adapt to changing technology, improve their efficiency and look to companies like Apple.
“It could have operated entirely online but chose to open stores,” he said, adding that town centres need to become places where people live and other businesses operate.
He did not call for an online tax but added his voice to calls for scrapping business rates.
Update Tue 4th: Black Friday fails to attract shoppers
Total retail spending was up 0.5% in November compared with the same month last year, but sharply slower than the 1.3% rise in October as Black Friday failed to stimulate a rush to the shops.
The British Retail Consortium said like-for-like retail sales, which exclude new store openings and more closely represent how retailers typically present their earnings, were down 0.5% on November last year, the biggest fall since October 2017 excluding distortions caused by the timing of Easter.
The BRC said Black Friday was an “increasingly digital event” as a record 33.8% of spending on non-food products was done online.