High street entrepreneur, Mike Ashley, appeared before the Housing and Local Government Select Committee today and hit back at MPs questioning his takeover of House of Fraser.
During his often combative exchange with MP’s , he revealed the House of Fraser chain he rescued earlier this year for £90m would have to run with fewer staff and in an interview later with Sky’s Ian King, revealed this might mean a merger of his two high street chains: Debenhams and House of Fraser, saying “They could merge, and in my opinion they should at least work very closely together.”
Objecting to the line of questioning by MP’s Ashley was extremely direct and stated that he “never, never, never” suggested he would keep open all 59 stores. And added that he was “not Father Christmas.”
Having previously promised to use the meeting to advise MP’s how to save the High Street Ashley called on MP’s to tax any retailers generating more than 20% of revenues online, saying: “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 – it’s the internet that is killing the high street.”
He added: “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.
The entrepreneur’s patience seemed to be stretched at times but he managed to keep control; even when Mp’s pointed to the controversy over zero-hours contracts – which he maintains many workers prefer.
Ashley, has been openly critical of high street landlords following his endeavours to agree rent reductions with some landlords had recently vowed to pull his Sports Direct brand and some of his recently acquired department stores from shopping centres.
Most recently he acquired the long leasehold in Derby, previously occupied by BHS, which gives him the ideal opportunity to carry out his threat in Derby, whilst still keeping his stores within the intu periphery.
However, he was keen to stress that most landlords want to “sit down and work something out.”
Clive Betts, chair of the Housing and Local Government Select Committee, concluded by saying: “You’ve told us that you’re not a pantomime villain, you’re not Father Christmas. But, I think you’ve still left us to decide whether you’re the wicked uncle or the fairy godmother and time will no doubt tell.”