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Britain's high streets are dying on the Tories' watch

Labour slams ‘inaction’ for crisis that see Mike Ashley snap up House of Fraser

NOTORIOUS Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley’s House of Fraser takeover would not have happened if the Tories hadn’t “stood by and done nothing” as Britain’s high streets collapse, Labour charged today.

Mr Ashley paid £90 million for the 59 branches, the branding and all of its available stock on the same day that the 169-year-old firm went into administration.

Hours after the collapse of the company, the deal was agreed and confirmed. Mr Ashley already held an 11 per cent stake in the firm.

Some 17,000 staff have been told that they will be transferred over from House of Fraser to Sports Direct. But doubts remain over the long-term future of the jobs and whether Mr Ashley will shut underperforming stores as part of a restructuring programme: 31 branches were identified in June as “unsustainable.”

Labour’s shadow business secretary Rebecca Long Bailey said House of Fraser staff would be concerned about the implications of the sale to Sports Direct.

“Some of the biggest retailers on Britain’s high streets are being replaced by gaping holes,” she said. “It is unforgivable that the Conservatives have stood by and done nothing while tens of thousands of jobs have been put at risk.

“Their inaction has prepared the ground for the likes of Mike Ashley, notorious for his company’s poor treatment of workers, to hoover up businesses. Staff will undoubtedly be concerned about what the sale means for their wages and conditions.

“How many more of our most recognisable high-street brands have to go under before the Prime Minister steps up and addresses the broken business rates system which is turning our high streets into ghost towns?”

Two years ago, Mr Ashley was hauled in front of the business committee to answer MPs’ questions about poor working conditions at Sports Direct.

The MPs concluded that he had been running Sports Direct like a “Victorian workhouse,” building his success on a business model that treats workers, many of them on zero-hours contracts and less than the minimum wage, “without dignity or respect.”

Unite the union – which has recently clashed with Mr Ashley over the treatment of workers at Sports Direct – said that the poor workplace practices there must not spread to House of Fraser.

Unite regional officer Scott Lennon accused Mr Ashley of being a “leopard that has not changed its spots.”

He said: “Sports Direct’s record at the Shirebrook warehouse operation in the east Midlands has been dreadful and, despite the recent terrible publicity, wages remain at the minimum legally payable and the terms and employment conditions are threadbare.

“We fear for jobs and employment conditions at House of Fraser. The staff are entering a period of great uncertainty and worry.

“Ministers need to wake up to what is happening to hard-working employees who have minimal employment protections in 2018 Britain.”

Shares in Sports Direct dipped slightly following the buy-up announcement.


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