This week, we were once again gripped by a parliamentary committee hearing, this time featuring the formidable Mike Ashley.
Many of the themes discussed by the housing, communities and local government committee have been highlighted by a range of investigations and panels before. They include an overhaul of the rent and rating regimes, allowing free parking in city centres and introducing an online sales tax.
Despite his brusque manner, Ashley’s thoughts on saving the high street made a lot of sense.
He urged the committee to level the playing field between stores and online, and said: “You have to immediately tax the internet – not just the pureplays, but the internet, for the good of the high street.”
There is no question that more must be done to help ailing high streets. Despite the rise of online shopping, multichannel retailers still make most of their sales via stores. Last month online sales were at an all-time high, but still only made up a total of 33.8% of overall sales, the BRC/KPMG Retail Sales Monitor showed.
Yes, consumer behaviour has changed, but the rate of online growth has plateaued. Shopping habits are multichannel, and stores are still an important part of that mix.
Ashley also highlighted the need for tough legislation, rather than recommendations, to be put in place to enforce any changes. He argued that retailers must be obliged to adhere to any new pieces of legislation, and both executives and non-executives must be held accountable and face consequences if they are not followed.
Ashley’s no-nonsense approach to saving the high street will be welcomed by many in the industry. However, it will be interesting to see whether anything actually happens off the back of his appearance.
Too often, retailers are called into parliament without a clear outline of the committee’s aims, and little is known about the follow-up afterwards.
Although industry issues are highlighted, recommendations and legislation need to be introduced to prove the effect of parliamentary hearings or they risk turning into theatre shows.