At a parliamentary committee hearing, Sports Direct Group owner Mike Ashley has called for a 20% internet sales tax to save the “flatlining mainstream high street”.
Ashley appeared before the housing, communities and local government committee on 3 December to discuss the outlook for high street retailers in 2030.
“I wouldn’t even go to 2030,” he said. ”The mainstream high street is already dead. What can we do for the minority? You have to immediately tax the internet.”
Ashley argued that a tax on those trading more than 20% of their sales online would force retailers to open more stores in areas where high streets are in decline.
“If I’m a retailer I will make sure not to pay the 20% tax and that I keep 80% of my revenues going through the high street because it now makes business sense for me to cross-subsidise those stores and keep them open.”
Discussing regional high streets, Ashley stressed the need for free parking to help increase footfall and encourage online shoppers to click and collect instore.
“You have to have free parking. You still get towns where high streets are barren and deserted charging for parking, which negates the free click-and-collect opportunities.”
Ashley called for councils to “force and help” retailers by working together with landlords: “Assuming the internet tax is in place, if the council then gave retailers free rates for five years on the condition that they matched every pound of free rates with a pound of investment that has to just go in that site, all of a sudden you’re forcing them to invest.”
Sports Direct Group has a £400m online business and would be affected by any online sales tax introduced.
Ashley said: ”I’m sitting here voting to punish Sports Direct Group. That is not very normal, but if the minority high street can now be saved it makes business sense because in 2030 I can have a fantastic business still.
”The high street won’t make 2030. It won’t be there unless you do something really radical.”