Mike Ashley demands meeting MPs amid vow to save high streets

668
Mike Ashley high street

Sports Direct chief executive Mike Ashley has demanded more than just a 15 minute slot with a select committee on the future of the high street, insisting he meet with MPs in person for a full hour.

In a statement circulated today, the retail tycoon – whose Sports Direct empire includes Flannels, USC and now House of Fraser and Evans Cycles – made a public promise to save the British high street.

He also said he was due to attend the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee on December 3 in Westminster, adding that MPs must do more to help struggling high streets and town centres.

The news comes after Sports Direct rescued House of Fraser from near-collapse in August through a £90 million pre-pack administration deal, and more recently when it purchased Evans Cycles out of administration for £8 million.

“Since we acquired House of Fraser, we’ve been working around the clock to save as many stores and jobs as possible,” Ashley said.

“I believe politicians and landlords should be doing more to save our struggling high streets, so I intend to make the most of this opportunity to make a real difference.”

A Sports Direct spokesman added: “The MPs originally wanted somebody from House of Fraser to speak for about 15 minutes as part of a panel of four, and said they didn’t mind who it was.

“Mike thought that wouldn’t achieve anything, so instead he demanded to go along in person for a full hour.”

When Sports Direct rescued House of Fraser, Ashley vowed to save 80 per cent of its stores – or 47 out of its total 59.

This compared to previous plans to close 31 stores under a CVA plan before the department store fell into administration.

Since September, Sports Direct has agreed terms on around 20 House of Fraser stores, saving around 3500 jobs.

One of these 20 rescued stores is the iconic Frasers store in Glasgow, where the company bought its freehold for £95 million in order to turn it into the “Harrods of the North”.

However, the rest of the estate remains uncertain, given Sports Direct has been operating them on short-term licences which allow it to hand over the keys with just two months’ notice.

Just last week, the department store confirmed it was set to close down all four of its branches located within Intu shopping centres, following news a month prior that its flagship Kendals Store in Manchester was due to cease trading.

Stores in Exeter, Shrewsbury, Cirencester, Hull, Swindon, Edinburgh, and Chichester were also due to shut down.

Additionally, when Ashley bought Evans Cycles out of administration, he almost immediately announced 50 per cent of its stores would shut, leading to 650 potential job losses.

According to The Telegraph, Ashley decided to shut the stores despite being allegedly informed by administrator PwC that nearly every Evans Cycles branch was profitable – although the fixed costs at the head office were a “burden”.

Meanwhile, according to separate analysis from The Sunday Times, Ashley’s method of buying up retailers in pre-pack administration deals – which means he can acquire the assets but not the debt – in the past year or so has left over £1 billion in unpaid bills.

Sports Direct’s argument has been that it saved retailers from complete collapse and as a result, job cuts were stemmed.

Click here to sign up to Retail Gazette‘s free daily email newsletter