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The Brexit billionaire boom revealed

Britain is now home to more billionaires than ever before, according to the latest Sunday Times Rich List - and they're richer than ever, too. Matthew Hardeman reports

The number of billionaires in Britain has risen to 134 – up fourteen on the previous record reached last year, according to figures in the latest Sunday Times Rich List. The results show that the wealthiest 1,000 individuals and families in the UK now have a combined wealth of £658 billion – up 14 per cent from £575 billion in 2016, despite fears that the Brexit vote last June would cripple the UK economy.

‘While many of us worried about the outcome of the EU referendum, many of Britain’s richest people just kept calm and carried on making billions,’ says Robert Watts, the compiler of the rich list. The figures are in sharp contrast with the list of billionaires published by Forbes earlier in the year, which stated that there were just 54 UK billionaires and that their collected wealth had declined.

Gopichand Hinduja, 77, and his brother Srichand Hinduja, 81, top the list this year with a fortune of £16.2 billion, up from £13 billion and second place on the list last year.

The brothers, who live in a £300 million mansion overlooking St James’s Park, first topped the rich list in 2014 having amassed their wealth from a vast a business empire started by their father in 1914. Today, the Hinduja Group has more than 70,000 employees and a wide range of investments, from oil and gas and banking to car manufacturing, media and property.

The latest individuals to join the elite billionaire club are software entrepreneur Mike Cannon-Brooke and business partner Scott Farquhar.

Meanwhile, the threshold to make the top 1,000 rose to a record level of £110 million this year – double the 2009 threshold (it was £15 million in 1997).

The club might have become more exclusive – fuelling a renewed debate about growing inequality – but Watts told the Guardian that there is greater diversity to be found in this years’ ranking: ‘More women, more people from ethnic backgrounds and more from surprising walks of life, with egg farmers and pet food makers lining up with private equity barons and hedge fund managers.’

The rising tide didn’t lift all boats, however: others like Sir Philip and Lady Tina Green saw their wealth decrease £433 million (and their place on the list slip twelve places to 41) to £2.8 billion, following the collapse of BHS. Mike Ashley, founder of Sports Direct and owner of Newcastle United football club, also dropped nine places to number 54 as his wealth went from £270 million to almost £2.2 billion.

The 2017 list stands in stark contrast to last year’s, when the super-rich suffered their most dramatic decline in fortune since the 2007 credit crisis: the previous title holder Lakshmi Mittal, who topped the 2008 list with £27.7 billion – the largest fortune ever amassed by anyone on the Rich List, lost three quarters of his wealth, slipping to £7.12 billion.

The dramatic reversal in fortune to the overall increase of wealth across the list this year is remarkable: nineteen UHNWs have increased their wealth by £1 billion or more in just the past year, and together, 2017’s top 500 entries now possess more wealth than all 1,000 had just 12 months ago.

London is currently home to more billionaires – 86 in total – than any other city in the world, according to The Times.

All of which is food for thought for the UK’s wealth management industry, which now has more to focus on than ever before, regardless of Brexit – soft, hard or otherwise.

Matthew Hardeman is Assistant Head of the Spear's Research Unit