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Businesses return £215m of furlough taxpayer money – How much from Mike Ashley?

1 month ago
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Mike Ashley has attracted plenty of criticism throughout this virus crisis.

Whether it is with his retail empire or Newcastle United, the response was the same.

People pointing the finger as Mike Ashley repeatedly did the wrong thing in the public’s eyes.

Before fleeing the UK for his second home in Miami, Ashley attempted to keep his Sports Direct stores open by claiming they were ‘essential’, until the Government forced him to close them as lockdown measures were implemented.

Then after furloughing staff across his retail empire, there were claims of the multi-billionaire still having some staff working some days, as well as accusations of profiteering – allegedly raising prices of in demand by extortionate amounts.

As for Newcastle United, despite requests from various fan groups, Mike Ashley insisted on still taking advance full season ticket payments (for 2020/21) by direct debit back in March 2020, as well as refusing to allow thousands of other fans to have a payment holiday in terms of advance monthly payments for the 2020/21 season tickets. No other Premier League club acting as badly as Newcastle United and refusing to communicate. There was also a refusal by NUFC to keep paying casual matchday staff at the end of last season as other clubs were doing, whilst when it came to refunding fans for the 2019/20 games they weren’t allowed to go to, Newcastle were the last PL club to refund supporters.

As for furloughing of staff, there has never been any confirmation by Mike Ashley and Newcastle United that this has taken place. However, there has been overwhelming media coverage reporting that this has taken place, with almost all non-playing or senior coaching staff put on furlough as soon as the Government launched the scheme. The newspapers contacted by many NUFC staff showing the communications from the club informing them they were on furlough.

Other PL clubs announced they were furloughing staff but in the end were shamed into not doing so and the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham apologised for having even considered it. In the end the only two PL clubs were Newcastle and Norwich to use /abuse the furlough scheme, the Canaries at least having some excuse as they were already all but relegated and had the least rich owners owners in the Premier League.

The Chronicle recently reported that Mike Ashley was keeping a number of Newcastle United staff on furlough, including scouts / recruitment staff(!!), until the very conclusion of the furlough scheme which is the end of October 2020.

Quite incredible, allegedly continuing to take taxpayers money for ordinary lower paid staff whilst at the same time spending a net £35m in the transfer market and committing to substantial new wages commitments for players earning millions of pounds per year.

However, has Mike Ashley now seen the light…?

Monday morning has brought news that UK employers have now voluntarily returned over £215m to the Government, this in the form of furlough payments that companies eventually decided they didn’t need.

The Telegraph and Argus have revealed that 80,433 different employers have returned money to HMRC, doing the right thing, accepting that in the end it was money that they didn’t need and shouldn’t take from the taxpayer.

HMRC believe that up to around £3.5billion has in total been paid out in error, or to fraudsters, under the scheme.

Some companies have already gone public in stating they have returned the furlough money, amongst them Redrow, Barratt, Taylor Wimpey, Bunzl and Ikea.

Mike Ashley is now back in the UK and indeed, has turned up at both of Newcastle’s Premier League matches so far.

So the question is, has Mike Ashley now returned all of the furlough money he has taken from the taxpayer to help pay his staff at Newcastle United and across his retail empire?

As a responsible employer and especially owning a football club that is at the heart of the community and should be seen to be leading by example, surely Mike Ashley has done the right thing….

At the very least, he should be open and transparent and say exactly what has happened at Newcastle United and make clear how the club has acted during this virus crisis.

Spending £35m on players (and much more on wages) and using taxpayers money to help finance it, would not be a good look.

We should be told.

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