The Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley has rebuffed MPs who wanted to grill him over the treatment of staff at the company’s USC retail business in Scotland and the use of zero-hours contracts.
The billionaire told MPs it was more appropriate that chief executive David Foley attend the Scottish Affairs committee, which is conducting an investigation into how the business collapsed without any obligations to its staff.
The committee wanted Ashley to answer questions about how around 200 staff at USC’s Ayrshire warehouse lost their jobs when administrators were called in to West Coast Capital (USC), a Sports Direct-controlled entity that owned 28 USC stores. The stores were immediately bought out of administration by another part of Sports Direct but the warehouse was abruptly closed down.
Ian Davidson MP, the committee chairman, said he was satisfied that the company had agreed to put a senior executive in front of the committee, though he warned it retained the right to call Ashley if questions remained unanswered.
“The hearing will be at the end of this month with the chief executive. We are still very concerned about the situation and want to conduct a thorough investigation,” he said.
“If we are not satisfied with the answers we get, then the committee will be able to reconvene after the election and request to meet Mike Ashley.”
In a previous statement, Davidson described Ashley “as the directing influence of this group”.
“We have had people in the past who didn’t have enthusiasm for coming in front of the committee ,” he had said, adding: “Eventually he will realise that he is not bigger than parliament.”
The committee is likely to be disappointed that the founder and chairman of the group has refused to attend. Davidson has the power to insist he come before MPs, but it is understood that with only a few weeks to go before parliament is dissolved ahead of the general election, he took the view that a legal battle was futile.
The committee also wants to tackle Sports Direct’s use of zero-hours contracts following a previous investigation. As many as 90% of the retailer’s 23,000 staff are employed under the controversial terms, which do not guarantee work. Davidson has invited staff to come forward to discuss the impact of the contracts.
The inquiry is one of several that the Newcastle United owner faces. The UK government’s Insolvency Service is also looking into the USC collapse and Sports Direct faces legal action by about 80 former employees at the Ayrshire warehouse which was shut down in January.