More than a dozen billionaires – including Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley – have used the Government’s furlough scheme to pay staff, it is claimed today.
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was introduced by the Government at the beginning of the pandemic. It allows companies to claim back 80% of an employee’s salary, up to £2,500 a month.
However, it has emerged that some of Britain’s wealthiest people are benefitting from the scheme and using taxpayer cash to pay workers.
The Sunday Times reports that five of the country’s 10 richest people own companies that have furloughed workers through the scheme.
It comes as the country’s super-rich have lost more than £54bn in the past two months amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Sunday Times Rich List.
The paper ranks Sports Direct tycoon Mr Ashley (£1.95bn) 75th on the list, with his wealth down £27m on last year. It is claimed the majority of his 18,000 Frasers Group employees are on furlough.
Newcastle United came under fire for furloughing club staff at a time when other Premier League clubs – such as Liverpool and Tottenham – were pressured into a U-turn. The Magpies recalled staff earlier this week ahead of the possible return of football in June.
Property moguls David and Simon Reuben (£16bn), who are poised to take a 10% stake in Newcastle United should the impending takeover be completed, are ranked joint-second on the rich list. Their wealth is down £2.66bn on last year.
The brothers – who own Newcastle Racecourse and are behind major property developments in the city – are said to have furloughed around 750 staff at their racecourses and pubs, but have pledged to top up their salaries.
Other billionaires accused of benefitting from furlough are Sri and Gopi Hinduja, who topped last year’s rich list at £22bn.
The two brothers, who are down £6bn this year, have furloughed part of their 360 employees at Optare, their North Yorkshire-based bus-making firm.
Sir Jim Ratcliffe (£12.15bn), co-owner of The Pig hotel chain and who has been linked with a buyout of Newcastle United in the past, has been criticised after furloughing most of his staff.
1. Sir James Dyson and family, household goods and technology, £16.2bn
2. Sri and Gopi Hinduja and family, industry and finance, £16bn
3. David and Simon Reuben, property and internet, £16bn
4. Sir Leonard Blavatnik, investment, music and media, £15.78bn
5. Sir Jim Ratcliffe, Ineos chemical giant, £12.15bn
6. Kirsten and Jorn Rausing, inheritance and investment, £12.1bn
7. Alisher Usmanov, mining and investment, £11.68bn
8. Guy, George and Galen Jr Weston and family, retail, £10.53bn
9. Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken and Michel de Carvalho, inheritance, brewing and banking, £10.3bn
10. The Duke of Westminster and the Grosvenor family, property, £10.29bn
Meanwhile, the Sunday Times says Sir Philip Green (£930m) has furloughed 14,500 of the 16,000 staff in his Arcadia retail empire.
This year’s Rich List, which includes the top 1,000 wealthiest people in the UK, has a combined wealth of £743bn – £29bn less than the total of last year’s entrants.
London remains the world’s billionaire capital with a total of 89 born or living in the city.
The pop star Rihanna, who now lives in London, has made her Rich List debut with an estimated fortune of £468m.
Inventor Sir James Dyson has been declared the UK’s richest person for the first time with a portfolio now valued at £16.2bn.
Sir James, aged 72, topped the list despite losing £500m of his own money on an electric car project which was scrapped.
There were a record 25 female billionaires on this year’s list, the 32nd edition of the definitive guide to Britain’s most affluent people.
List compiler Robert Watts said: “Ever since the financial crisis of 2008-9, Britain’s wealthiest people have become richer and richer.
“Covid-19 has called time on their golden period. This year’s rich list paints a picture of Britain on the brink of calamity – two months after lockdown and already billions of pounds have been wiped out.
“You may not like the super-rich, but it is hard to deny that our economy will need the jobs they create and the taxes they and their companies pay if we are to escape a prolonged recession that causes further misery to millions.”
The full list covering the wealthiest 1,000 people in the UK has been published in a 136-page edition of The Sunday Times Magazine.