High street tycoon Mike Ashley has called for a new tax on online retailers as part of a radical change he says is needed to save the high street.
Appearing before MPs, the Sports Direct founder said any retailer that makes more than 20% of its sales online should be subject to an additional tax.
He said this would encourage businesses like Sports Direct to open more stores rather than increasingly shifting to digital sales channels.
“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,” Mr Ashley said. “The internet is killing the high street.”
“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.”
The businessman, who has expanded his high street empire this year with the acquisitions of House of Fraser and Evans Cycles, warned most high streets will not survive until 2030.
He said: “I want to make it crystal clear: the mainstream high street as we think about it today – not the Oxford Streets and the Westfields – are already dead. They can’t survive.
He later said: “Outside of London it’s going to be a ghost town.”
Mr Ashley also suggested local government should offer free parking in town centres and reform business rates.
His suggestions were welcomed by Robert Hayton, head of UK business rates at Altus Group.
He said: “Our system of business rates was created nearly 30 years ago, before the advent of online shopping, and with the UK having the third largest e-commerce market in the world, Mike Ashley was right that it is vital that the Government develops a coherent approach to taxing the digital economy.”
“Mike Ashley was right that it is vital that the Government develops a coherent approach to taxing the digital economy.”
Robert Hayton, Altus Group
Quizzed by members of the Housing and Local Government Select Committee on the future of House of Fraser, Mr Ashley said nobody would be able to keep all 59 of the department store’s branches open “except God”.
He also hinted a long-suggested tie-up between Debenhams and House of Fraser could still be on the cards.
“I told them to work together,” he said. “They should work together.”
Meanwhile, he described rising high street rents as “prehistoric” and said retailers were in a “downward death spiral”.
Mr Ashley has recently been embroiled in public rows with retail landlords, but he said that all parties must now come to the table to save the high street.
“Everybody has to come together and look at this,” he said. “I know it sounds very socialist, I’m not this crazy capitalist that everybody thinks I am.”
Words, image and video: Press Association