Mike Ashley calls for online tax to save the High Street

Mike Ashley

Mike Ashley has called for a new tax on revenues from online retailing to help revive ailing town centres.

The Sports Direct owner told MPs that the “internet is killing the High Street”.

His answer is taxing all retailers that make more than 20% of their turnover online – and not just online-only operators.

Mr Ashley said a tax would hit his own £400m online operation, but give retailers a reason to keep stores open.

All parties, including landlords and the government bodies responsible for setting business rates, had to play a part in helping to save the High Street, he argued.

Earlier this year Sports Direct bought House of Fraser for £90m after the department store chain collapsed into administration.

Many such stores were stuck with “prehistoric rents” set before the rise of online shopping, Mr Ashley said. That meant landlords “have to take their share of the pain”, he argued.

In combative exchanges with MPs, the “tracksuit tycoon” said some buildings now had more value for purposes other than retailing.

However, most landlords wanted to “sit down and work something out”, Mr Ashley said, adding: “I’m not father Christmas – I try and be fair and I try and be balanced”.

Given the obstacles facing the retail sector, managing to keep 80% of House of Fraser stores open would be a “god-like performance”, he said.

That meant he could not guarantee all House of Fraser workers would keep their jobs. “It doesn’t make sense… the High Street has to change what it offers the consumers.”

Mr Ashley has vowed to make the chain the “Harrods of the High Street” and take it more upmarket.

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