Mike Ashley calls for a web tax to save the high street

If only every high street could bank on The Mike Ashley Show rolling into town. Preferably daily, until Christmas. Think of the crowds.

The retail tycoon has a wonderful turn of phrase and looks permanently as if he’s seconds away from losing his temper. You can’t take your eyes of him, just in case he does.

For this reason alone, Ashley’s appearance before MPs on Monday was gripping. Unfortunately we learned very little in the 90-minute session.

Ashley was instantly offended by any question he didn’t like. MPs tried to ask him about his use of zero hour contracts, how many House of Fraser stores he thought he could save and whether he would recognise the unions in negotiations with staff. Ashley got indignant and refused to answer.

Mike Ashley did tell MPs that he is not God. Nor is he Father Christmas. He insisted that the internet is “killing the high street” which he said is “at the bottom of a swimming pool, dead.” Can it be revived? “No, the patient is dead.”

Happily, Ashley then came up with a plan to revive it. An online sales tax. One that would be paid by all retailers that make more than 20% of their turnover online.

The plan he spelled out was vague but sounds similar-ish to the Digital Services Tax which the Chancellor plans to levy on the likes of Amazon and Google.

“We need a lot more detail if this tax is going to be taken seriously," says John Cullinane of the Chartered Insititute of Taxation. “How does Mike Ashley define ‘online sales’? What rate would be charged? At the moment, the idea doesn’t appear to be well thought out.”

There may not be many takers for Mike Ashley’s online sales tax in its current form but there’s general support for the idea that the Government needs to play a more active role in addressing the upheaval the internet is causing. And the sense of urgency is obvious.