Elusive British billionaire Mike Ashley will be forced to answer politicians’ questions imminently as the Scottish Affairs Committee rallies to officially drag him to Westminster.
Ashley, who owns bargain clothing giant Sports Direct, was asked by politicians to attend a committee hearing to answer questions over the complex deal involving USC several weeks ago.
But now, politicians are corralling to invoke powers that force him to go to Whitehall.
Ashley’s Sports Direct bought a majority stake in USC and its 90 stores in 2011, through two holding companies.
However, USC went into administration after a debt dispute with one of its long term suppliers Diesel. It led to the loss of 200 jobs in Scotland and the closure of 28 stores.
But Ashley’s Republic clothing chain, known as the “premium lifestyle arm” of Ashley’s empire, bought USC out of administration almost immediately.
Politicians now also hope to grill Ashley over his overall treatment of workers as Sports Direct, which is worth £4 billion, is a prolific user of the zero hours contract.
The controversial terms of employment does not guarantee work and does not provide sick, holiday, or maternity pay.
Around 90% of Sports Direct staff are on zero hours contracts.
“The Scottish affairs committee is investigating how employees in small businesses are treated when big bosses decide to shut down a company or sites,” said Ian Davidson MP, the Scottish Affairs Committee chairman, in a press statement.
“Following our inquiry into the closure of City Link, we are now inviting USC and Sports Direct management, and Mike Ashley as the directing influence of this group, to meet with the committee.”
And politicians won’t take no for an answer.
“Mike Ashley is clearly the guiding influence behind the group and we want to have him there,” added Davidson. “We have had people in the past who didn’t have enthusiasm for coming in front of the committee and eventually they understood that the reputational damage from not coming along was much greater than not coming. Eventually he will realise that he is not bigger than parliament.”
Politicians only have five more weeks before parliament is dissolved to make way for the general election in May.
Therefore the committee has a little over a month to finish off any business it has with Ashley or with anyone else.
The committee said it would be meeting over the next two weeks to consider what to do next if Ashley has either not responded or refused to go to Westminster.
Politicians have the power to officially summon individuals to parliament, should they refuse to attend a committee hearing.
If someone did refuse a summons, they could be held in contempt of parliament.
The perfect storm is brewing around Ashley’s legacy as a number of his business dealings is falling under the scrutiny of Scottish politicians.
Ashley, who also owns Newcastle United, lent Glasgow Rangers £10 million to stop the football club falling into bankruptcy.
However, half of Ashley’s loan was used to repay Ashley himself from a previous £3 million loan he doled out to the troubled football club.
Meanwhile, Sports Direct revealed weaker than expected sales growth, after a poor sales season in Austria.
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