Mike Ashley has called on MPs to impose a new tax on any retailers who make more than a fifth of their income online, warning that the “internet is killing the high street”.
The Sports Direct owner appeared in front of the Housing and Local Government Select Committee yesterday after demanding a full hour with them to discuss what needed to be done to save the UK’s embattled high streets, significantly more than the 15 minutes they had requested.
Ashley painted a bleak picture of the state of physical retail in the country, stating that they would not survive until 2030 should a radical change not be made.
“I want to make it crystal clear: the mainstream high streets as we think about it today – not the Oxford Streets and the Westfields – are already dead,” he said.
“They can’t survive… outside of London it’s going to be a ghost town.”
To counter its demise, Ashley became the latest to propose increased taxes on online retailers like Amazon and Asos, which have come under fire this year for the disproportionate amount of tax they pay compared to retailers with a bricks-and-mortar presence.
He suggested that imposing further taxes on any retailer who makes over 20 per cent of its income online should would encourage high street retailers to open more stores, rather than continue the shift online.
“It’s not House of Fraser’s fault, it’s not Marks & Spencer’s fault, it’s not Debenhams’s fault the high street is dying,” said Ashley, who acquired House of Fraser out of administration in August.
When asked by the committee what was in store for the future of House of Fraser, Ashley suggested that a tie up between his recently acquired department store and Debenhams, of which he holds almost a 30 per cent stake, could still be on the cards.
He added that “they should work together”.
Furthermore, he took aim at the current business rates system, calling it “prehistoric”, while suggesting that the retail industry needed to “come together and look at this” in order to save the high street.
“I know it sounds very socialist, I’m not this crazy capitalist that everybody thinks I am,” he said.