Mike Ashley has backed down to MPs' call for questions

Unite the Union have held protests against Sports Direct since it emerged staff were working under 'Dickensian' conditions in Shirebrook.
Unite the Union have held protests against Sports Direct since it emerged staff were working under 'Dickensian' conditions in Shirebrook.

Sports Direct's boss Mike Ashley has finally agreed to answer questions on working practices at the retailer's Shirebrook site.

After previously refusing to appear before the Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) select committee on Tuesday, June 7, and then saying he would attend provided MPs also visited the Shirebrook base of operations, the billionaire owner of Newcastle United has now folded under pressure and agreed to attend.

Mike Ashley, founder of Sports Direct

Mike Ashley, founder of Sports Direct

He also said last week that he couldn't attended because his lawyer, Richard Gordon QC, was unavailable.

The decision comes after a renewed threat that Mr Ashley may face charges of 'contempt of parliament if he chose not to face an inquiry led by MPs, and committee chairman Iain Wright said the members were to discuss sanctions if he avoided the appointment.

Mr Ashley said in a letter: "After much reflection over the last 48 hours, I have concluded that a lengthy legal battle would be of no benefit to either of us.

"It would no doubt lead to further unwarranted accusations that I am being secretive, whereas in fact I have been open and honest at every stage of this process."

He will now go before MPs to defend the firm's "good name", he said, following allegations by a major investigation into working conditions in Shirebrook, which found workers were effectively being paid less than minimum wage due to extensive security measures as they come and go from work.

Sports Direct responded to the reports by announcing a pay rise for staff, and a review of all agency staff terms and conditions, overseen personally by Ashley.

Unite's rep for Sports Direct in Shirebrook, Luke Primarolo said: "We're disappointed that it's taken until the 11th hour for him to agree to come, but we welcome his attendance.

"What we want most of all is for Mike Ashley to sit own with Unite and discuss the issues which are fundamental to what's wrong at Sports Direct, and the treatment of worker."

Ashley's change of mind followed reports that the BIS committee was considering filing a special report to the speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow, asking to advise on whether they should issue a summons from the whole house, to find him in contempt of parliament, or possible file a Commons motion for MPs to vote on whether Ashley was 'fit and proper' to be running a business.

Iain Wright, chairman of the BIS committee, said: “Does Mr Ashley, owning and operating a business in a parliamentary democracy, see himself as being beyond such public scrutiny?”

"As democratically elected MPs, we are responding to serious allegations of exploitative employment practices and mistreatment of workers at Sports Direct.

"Mr Ashley announced in December he would personally oversee a review of working practices at the Shirebrook warehouse. It is entirely reasonable for the select committee to ask Mr Ashley to respond to those allegations and comment on how his review – announced over six months ago – is progressing”.

Tomorrow we will follow the committees' enquiry, with questions going to Mike Ashley along with directors of the employment agencies which provide Sports Direct's casual labour, Andy Sweeney of The Best Connection and Chris Birkby of Transline Group, and also Steve Turner and Luke Primarolo of Unite.