High street aid plan is a to­ken ges­ture, Ash­ley will tell MPs

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Business - By Lucy Bur­ton

MIKE ASH­LEY is set to clash with MPs over the Gov­ern­ment’s sup­port for the UK’s bat­tered high street to­day af­ter de­mand­ing a meet­ing in West­min­ster.

The Sports Di­rect founder, who has promised to turn House of Fraser into the “Har­rods of the high street” af­ter buy­ing the em­bat­tled chain out of ad­min­is­tra­tion, is ex­pected to tell MPs that Philip Ham­mond’s re­cent busi­ness rates plan does lit­tle to help larger re­tail­ers. The Mail on Sun­day re­ported.

The Chan­cel­lor’s pack­age to help the high street in­cludes £900m of busi­ness rates re­lief for shops with rate­able val­ues of less than £51,000, leav­ing big chains with ex­pen­sive stores un­able to claim tax re­lief. Mother­care and Deben­hams are among the house­hold names that have strug­gled this year, while House of Fraser, Toys R Us, Pound­world and Maplin have all plunged into ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Mr Ash­ley said last month that the “to­ken ges­ture was noth­ing more than a tick-box ex­er­cise” and called the move “the work of a child”.

The sports­wear bil­lion­aire has ar­gued that politi­cians should be “do­ing more to save our strug­gling high streets” and said he would use his time in front of the hous­ing, com­mu­ni­ties and lo­cal gov­ern­ment se­lect com­mit­tee to “make a real dif­fer­ence”.

The com­mit­tee had orig­i­nally in­vited some­one from House of Fraser to speak for 15 min­utes as part of a panel of four, but Mr Ash­ley de­manded that he at­tended in per­son for a full hour.

That stands in stark con­trast to his at­ti­tude a few years ago, when he had fa­mously never appeared in front of a Gov­ern­ment com­mit­tee de­spite re­peated re­quests from MPs. “Se­lect com­mit­tees do not nor­mally need to have re­course to our for­mal pow­ers to sum­mon wit­nesses in or­der to se­cure at­ten­dance; re­fusal to at­tend with­out good rea­son may be con­sid­ered a con­tempt of the House,” MP Iain Wright said in a let­ter to Mr Ash­ley in 2016.

Re­tail­ers have strug­gled this year due to the de­cline in foot­fall on the high street as more peo­ple shop on­line.

Mr Ash­ley’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives could not be reached for com­ment.

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