There is a wind of change blowing up and down our High Street – here in Yorkshire and across the UK.

It’s not just the mounting financial pressures facing shops, cafes, restaurants and hotels – borne out by figures that reveal a huge rise in the number of struggling businesses falling into insolvency and entering administration.

Only construction had a higher percentage rate of businesses in insolvency or administration last year.

It’s also how the billionaire retail tycoon Mike Ashley has become a dominant force on the High Street, seeing the current tough trading conditions as an opportunity rather than a challenge.

But, in developing his courtship of insolvent businesses, is the entrepreneur setting sail for calmer, more profitable waters – or into the teeth of a howling economic gale.

Time will tell as he charts the next stage of a successful business career that has seen him embark on an ever-aggressive acquisition trail ever since his Sports Direct business opened its doors for the first time in 1982.

The Newcastle United owner (who once tried to buy Leeds United) may be accused by diehard fans on Tyneside of not investing in the club.

But he has frequently brought out his cheque book to snap up well-known names such as Dunlop Slazenger, outdoor gear specialist Karrimor, hat-maker Kangol and boxing brand Lonsdale

Recent months, and after a spate of corporate insolvencies and administrations in the retail sector, have seen him once again put his money where his mouth is.

His investment has seen him strengthen his Boardroom presence in a number of high-profile retailers staring at financial insolvency or administration

It is difficult to walk down any High Street nowadays and not walk into a store controlled by Mike Ashley.

As more retailers fall, his empire grows – with the strategic purchase of businesses that have fallen into insolvency or administration.

His takeover of the beleaguered House of Fraser stores offered a lifeline to its network of shops across Yorkshire, Humberside, Lincolnshire and the North East – including Leeds, Huddersfield, Doncaster, Meadowhall Sheffield, Skipton, Hull, Lincoln, Grimsby, Gateshead Metro Centre, Middlesbrough and Darlington.

So too did his acquisition of Evans Cycles and its 62 shops – including those on our doorstep in Leeds, Castleford, Sheffield, Durham, Gateshead and York.

Under his hard nose and business brain, the company is now pedalling back to into profit – albeit with the cost-cutting closure of some non-performing outlets to head off the threat of insolvency or administration.

He also swooped for luxury clothing label Flannels, with its flagship Leeds stores and other outlets in Darlington, Doncaster and Sheffield

And after a shareholder battle – famously dubbed ‘The Storm In A D-Cup’ – he controls the upmarket lingerie firm Agent Provocateur after it too went into administration

Now he is being linked with talks to rescue HMV, the music retailer who fell into administration at Christmas for the second time in recent years. Again, it’s a well-known High Street face with stores in Bradford, Castleford, Darlington, Doncaster, Gateshead, Grimsby, Harrogate, Huddersfield, Hull, Leeds, Lincoln, Middlesbrough, Newcastle, Sheffield and Sunderland.

He has been accused by some of simply playing Monopoly – the world-famous board game created in Leeds – but many analysts believe there is a clever strategy behind his power grab.

And as his shareholding increases in stores such as French Connection and Debenhams – both features of the Yorkshire High Street, from Leeds to Harrogate, Stockton-on-Tees to Bradford – his next move may tell us more about the hand he is playing.

According to latest media reports, his appetite for acquisition shows no sign of abating – his latest target being the Patisserie Valerie bakery chain.  Its stores in Leeds, Huddersfield, York, Durham, Bradford and Sheffield were among the closures when the chain recently fell into administration – the latest High Street Insolvency victim.

Whether they can be rescued from administration in some form or another is still unclear.  But what we do now know is that for a larger-than-life businessman Mike Ashley is very much used to having his cake – and eating it.

Mary Taylor
Director

Mary began working in insolvency for a national accountancy practice in Glasgow thirty years ago and worked in most divisions of the insolvency department.

She then moved to a smaller firm so she could advance her knowledge on a more hands on basis. She moved back to Leeds in 1987 and commenced working with a small firm of accountants and subsequently made partner.

She left in 1999 to set up her own practice, McCann Taylor.
McCann Taylor became involved with the consumer market both in England and Scotland.

Mary sold McCann Taylor in March 2007 and formed Walsh Taylor to concentrate on helping businesses experiencing financial difficulties.

Kate Ellis (neé Breese)
Director

Kate has worked in insolvency since 2001 starting out at a firm of solicitors in Leeds and latterly gaining positions within two national accountancy firms.

During this time Kate gained extensive experience in all aspects of personal and corporate insolvency, for the first part of her career specializing in personal insolvency and latterly corporate.

Kate has been with Walsh Taylor since its incorporation in September 2008, being promoted to Director in January 2010.

Kate is CPI and JIEB qualified, is experienced in a variety of industries and sectors and is the firm’s joint appointment taker.

Meg Heath
Director

Meg has a background in supporting SMEs, including the raising of finance and advising on organisational change. She is a non-executive director of companies in the private and third sector, including Walsh Taylor.

Previously she was Deputy Fund Director of one of the largest CDFIs in the UK, and has experience of the social enterprise, charity and private sectors. Her experience of assisting companies to survive and thrive has been gained across a broad range of sectors and in companies of all sizes.

In addition to her work at Walsh Taylor she works for other private companies, including non-executive and trustee positions.

Emma Mifsud
Director

After graduating from Leeds University in 2005 with a BA Hons degree in Criminology, Emma worked for a regional law firm in both the property department and insolvency and banking department. Whilst doing so Emma gained a Graduate Diploma in Law at BPP University.

Emma then joined a national accountancy firm in 2009 gaining experience in personal insolvency before moving to a Leeds based firm. At this firm Emma specialised in bankruptcies, IVA’s and negotiating informal agreements with creditors. In 2013 Emma gained her CPI qualification.

Since joining the firm in December 2013, Emma has taken on a portfolio of personal and corporate insolvency cases to extend her knowledge and expertise in all areas of insolvency.

In December 2017 Emma become a licensed appointment taker under the Insolvency Practitioners Association, she is JIEB qualified.

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