'It's not my fault the high street's dying' Mike Ashley declares

Mike Ashley

Mike Ashley

'It's not my fault the high street is dying.

Mr Ashley - who was appearing before the committee to talk about the struggling retail sector - suggested an online sales tax for retailers selling more than 20% online.

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

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

'The internet is killing the high street'.

"I want to make it crystal clear: the mainstream high streets as we think about [them] today, not Oxford Street or Westfield, are already dead".

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. Such an achievement would probably require agreeing an average 50% cut in rent across the group, with some stores paying nothing, he said.

In sometimes combative exchanges with MPs, he was asked about his takeover of House of Fraser, which he rescued for £90 million earlier this year.

He told MPs he "never never never" said he would keep open all 59 stores.

Mr Ashley insisted that House of Fraser would have to change to survive, ditching "prehistoric" business practices and potentially collaborating with rival Debenhams - a business in which he already has a significant stake.

About 12 stores are to close after Sports Direct failed to secure terms with landlords including Intu, the owners of shopping centres such as the Metrocentre in Gateshead and Lakeside in Essex.

Ashley said he was neither a "pantomime villain" nor "Santa Claus", adding: "I'm not sitting in my office stroking a white cat ... I find it very frustrating: what benefit have I got of closing stores?" That meant landlords "have to take their share of the pain", he argued.

"What person could keep 59 stores open, besides God?" he said.

Ashley also called for more park and ride schemes, and click and collect promotions in order to entice the British public back to stores.

Giving evidence to the housing, communities and local government select committee, Ashley defended the use of zero-hours contracts at Sports Direct, saying that a staff survey had found that the vast majority of workers preferred to continue using them.

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