Former Dragons' Den star says government is a 'Whitehall farce'
Theo Paphitis has launched an astonishing attack on the government, branding Theresa May's administration as "incompetent" and accusing it of posing a threat to the high street.
The entrepreneur behind Ryman, Robert Dyas and Boux Avenue said retailers are "getting it right in the neck" as the sector struggles with labour costs, the apprenticeship levy, soaring business rates and the collapse in sterling following the Brexit vote.
Underwear chain Boux Avenue operates one store in Belfast's Victoria Square.
The former Dragons' Den star has also described the near-daily shambolic happenings at Westminster as nothing short of a "farce".
He said: "It's a Whitehall farce, it's like The Thick Of It and Yes Minister all rolled into one, except that it's not funny any more. It's extremely sad for the businesses that have people to pay.
"It's depressing, all this self-inflicted doom and gloom. This will go down as the 'government of depression'."
His comments come a day after Mrs May's Cabinet reshuffle on Monday, which has been roundly ridiculed.
Mr Paphitis also hit out at the way the government taxes high street retailers compared to their online peers.
He said: "Thirty per cent of all sales are online now, the government can't keep taxing the same people.
"Online is not contributing in the same way as the high street, in terms of business rates and to the local community."
As well as reeling from the widely criticised hike in business rates ushered in last year, sterling's collapse since the Brexit vote has seen costs and shop prices rocket.
The result has been diminishing consumer spending power and falling household confidence, hitting retailers hard.
Mothercare and Debenhams have both issued profit warnings in January, House Of Fraser has written to landlords to seek rent reductions and New Look has had credit insurance pulled.
It follows a torrid 2017 for the high street, which saw Feather & Black, Multiyork and Store Twenty One collapse, while Toys R Us came close to the brink.
Tory policy is "lagging well behind the development of the retail sector globally", Mr Paphitis added.