Ashley appeared in front of MPs at the House of Commons yesterday (3 December) after demanding to meet them in person and gave evidence as part of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee’s high streets and town centres 2030 inquiry. Last week, (26 November) he vowed his speaking to them would help to “save the struggling British high street” after MPs originally requested a representative of House of Fraser to speak for 15 minutes on a panel and said they “didn’t mind” who it was.
He said taxing online businesses could revitalise high streets with empty lots saying it would deter retailers from going online only and prompt them to keep stores open and reinvest into those stores. He then said “Draconian” measures needed to be used as an “incentive”.
He also said the use of click and collect, free parking and park and ride schemes would bring customers back to the high street and boost retail. When asked about closures of House of Fraser stores, he said it was no “benefit” to him to shut them down but added some landlords saw the property space as “more profitable” when re-purposed for something other than retail.
Ashley said: “It’s not my fault the high street is dying, is it? It’s not House of Fraser’s fault, it’s not Marks and Spencer’s fault, it’s not Debenhams’ fault. The internet is killing the high street, I know, we have a £400m internet business. Guess what that affects the most? The high street by definition. If you want to save the high street you have to address that problem.
“The mainstream high streets are already dead. They can’t survive. Save the minority because the decline has happened.”
He added: “Tax the internet, not just the pure play internet – the Sports Direct group will not thank me for this – tax the internet for the good of the high street. That will affect me massively – that’s going to be a big bill. Think about what would be fair and what you want to achieve.”
Ed Cooke, chief executive of Revo, a not-for-profit organisation which serves retail, added: “It is hard to disagree with Mike Ashley’s comments that a massive electric shock is needed to revive high streets that are flatlining.
“We are campaigning for the introduction of a fairer tax system, including some form of online sales tax, that recognises the changing role of online and physical retail and encourages investment back into stores. It remains to be seen if the model proposed today would work.
“Today’s evidence session underlined that collaboration – by all stakeholders – is key to saving the high street, and to that end we will be inviting Mike to attend our inaugural CEO summit next spring to debate these issues further.”