Mike Ashley's 'contempt' infuriates MPs as he dodges committee

Sports Direct tycoon also lost a decisive boardroom battle for control of Glasgow Rangers Football Club

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Mike Ashley stuck two fingers up at parliament yesterday as the Scottish Affairs Select Committee took the unprecedented step of publishing emails it sent to representatives for the billionaire businessman.

The revelation came as the Sports Direct tycoon lost a decisive boardroom battle for control of Glasgow Rangers Football Club.

Politicians had wanted to question Mr Ashley over the controversial administration of the fashion chain USC and his extensive use of zero hours contracts across his retail empire. But emails reveal it took Mr Ashley’s representatives four weeks to respond to the committee, only to tell them he would not be available throughout March due to being abroad or tied up with other commitments.

MPs on the panel, which have been offered Sports Direct’s non-executive chairman Dr Keith Hellawell to appear on 25 March, are said to be furious with Mr Ashley’s behaviour.

One told The Independent: “He’s been fucking us around and clearly doesn’t want to come. He seems to think he is bigger than parliament.  Normally people’s enthusiasm for coming in front of us is less than total and we appreciate and understand that, but this tactic of obfuscation and delay is unacceptable.”

Parliament dissolves for the general election at the end of the month, along with all the select committees, meaning it will be up to the next committee to decide whether to push for an appearance from Mr Ashley at a later date. However, the current committee is expected to make it clear its successors should follow through and call the Newcastle United owner to appear.

Alison McGovern, Labour MP who has campaigned against zero hours contract reform for several years, said: “Mike Ashley is showing the same contempt for parliament as he shows for his employees.  Good companies are always happy to help out select committees. If companies think parliament doesn’t have the appetite to force them to come to select committees, then they haven’t been watching parliament for the last five years.”  She added: “It raises questions over whether he is a fit and proper person to run a football club.”

A Sports Direct spokesperson said: “The committee’s request was carefully considered by the company and Sports Direct responded in a timely manner.”

In Glasgow, 85 per cent of shareholders in the club’s holding company voted to remove Derek Llambias and Barry Leach – two directors closely associated with Mr Ashley – from the board in an extraordinary general meeting at the Ibrox ground. But, despite the departure of his placemen, Mr Ashley will remain a powerful financial presence at the club due to his position as its biggest creditor.

The Scottish Affairs emails released by the committee show it contacted Sports Direct’s PR outfit, Powers-court, on 2 February at 1.59pm, followed by a second email two days later. Officials were then told to contact Keith Bishop Associated, a PR agency which deals with Mr Ashley’s personal affairs.

However, it took 22 days for a response from Mr Ashley’s legal firm to reveal he was unavailable. Powerscourt declined to comment. Keith Bishop Associated did not respond to requests for comment.