RETAIL tycoon Mike Ashley told MPs today the majority of the High Street was “dead at the bottom of the swimming pool” as he painted a bleak picture of Britain’s town centres.
But the Sports Direct founder said it could be revived with an “electric” shock – as he urged ministers to bring in a 20 per cent web tax.
He declared ministers should bring in the additional tax for retailers who make more than 20 per cent of their sales online to save the High Street.
The businessman insisted he was “no crazy capitalist” as he urged radical action to stop Britain’s town centres outside of London turning into “ghost towns”.
He raged: “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’ fault the high street is dying.
“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 vast majority of the High Street has already died in the bottom of the swimming pool.
“The vast minority is flatlining on the operating table – they need a massive electric shock.”
He urged MPs to “take the bull by the horns and “force us or help us” saying they should “shine a light” on the bad guys and the good guys.
Mr Ashley said an extra tax would encourage businesses like Sports Direct to open more stores instead of moving online.
He insisted by making customers come into stores to “click and collect” and councils offering free parking would give shops a major boost.
Reforms to business rates and rent would also help halt a “downward death spiral” on the High Street.
And he hinted a tie-up between Debenhams and House of Fraser could still happen.
He added: “I told them to work together. They should work together.”
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Robert Hayton, head of UK business rates at Altus Group welcomed his ideas.
He said: “Our system of business rates was created nearly 30 years ago, before the advent of online shopping.
“Mike Ashley was right that it is vital that the Government develops a coherent approach to taxing the digital economy.”