UK exporters help Rich List get richer

In an exclusive interview with MT, the man behind the Sunday Times Rich List tells us that small UK manufacturers are going great guns...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 17 May 2011
Surprisingly, the latest Sunday Times Rich List, published yesterday, showed that the collective wealth of the nation’s wealthiest 1,000 people has risen by 18%, to £396bn. OK, so the top end of the list is dominated by (as the paper puts it) some ‘very un-English-sounding’ plutocrats. But at least that shows that the UK - and London in particular - remains a popular place for the super-rich to spend their time and, more importantly, their money. And according to Philip Beresford, the man in charge of compiling the list, there's another snippet of good news in there: the success of small British exporters.

MT had a chat with Beresford (a MT contributing editor, lest we forget) this morning. As he points out, the Russian/ Indian/ Chinese/ Swedish billionaires at the top end of the list are, for the most part, domiciled abroad – so despite the overall rise in wealth, the Treasury won’t actually see any direct benefit in tax terms (and they're unlikely to be scared off by the 50% rate). But we shouldn't under-estimate the trickle-down effect, he says. ‘We will get their spending power. London is an important centre for them, and there are lots of people employed in everything from servicing their bank accounts to servicing their security.’

So he doesn't expect them to disappear to more tax-friendly locales? ‘They want to escape the monotony of Monaco or Geneva. Monaco is just full of people on the way to dying. There’s nothing to do there, except drink in a gilded cage.’

But Beresford told MT that one of the main factors behind the increase in the Rich List's collective wealth was Britain's ‘booming export trade’, which is helping small, niche manufacturers. These ‘foot soldiers’, often based in the Midlands and the North, seem to be going great guns - particularly those involved with making specialist equipment for the oil sector. ‘They have been doing extraordinarily well, providing anchors for local economy, export revenue for Britain and tax revenue for the Government,’ he said.

This is all very on-message in terms of the Government's efforts to rebalance the economy and promote exports. But should we take these numbers as a sign that the strategy is working? Well, yes and no, says Beresford. With commodity prices sky-high, it's no wonder that all those involved are making pots of cash. But if prices start to drop (and there were signs of that just last week), the picture would look very different. ‘If the commodities bubble bursts and oil prices collapse, it would be a tragedy,’ said Beresford.

Still, there were other encouraging signs from this year's list. For the first time since its inception, the number of women has topped 100 – to 105, to be precise. Beresford attributed this to ‘female-friendly’ businesses ‘that use smart marketing, clever ideas and brain power’ being given their chance to shine. ‘Look at Hayley Parsons. She’s typical of this new breed of woman entrepreneur. She knew the insurance business inside-out, and started Go Compare. We might loathe and hate the marketing – but it’s genius.’ Quite.  

Economy Misc

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