Glympton Park is a sprawling, 2,000-acre estate featuring an 18th-century stately home, nestled in the verdant Oxfordshire countryside near Woodstock.
It was bought for £8m in 1992, by Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, the senior Saudi royal whose past roles include ambassador to the US. He is said to have spent £42m on renovations, including a pheasant shoot and bullet-proof glass on the driveway to thwart would-be assassins.
Yet, despite the vast sums showered on the country pile, Glympton Estates Ltd, which manages the property and is owned by Bandar, claimed £25,000 of taxpayer-funded furlough support in December last year.
The company is just one of more than 750,000 to have tapped into a scheme slated to cost nearly £66bn by the time it comes to an end in September.
Some are household names, among them large employers on their knees due to the pandemic. The two largest claimants are pubs groups JD Wetherspoon and Mitchells & Butlers, each receiving between £25m and £50m.
Dozens more firms have received between £1m and £25m, including British Airways, Premier Inn-owned Whitbread, tour operator Tui and Primark. Under the furlough scheme, the government pays for 80% of an employee’s wages.
While these well-known businesses are among the UK’s largest employers, a host of much smaller companies lie buried in government disclosures.
Cross-referencing furlough data with publicly available information from Companies House reveals that some of their owners, like Bandar, may not be obvious candidates for state support.
The sums claimed have been published in bands, starting with £0-£10,000 and rising to £25-£50m. The value of claims relate only to December. In practice, the total sums could be much higher.
Royalty and petro states
Glympton Estates Ltd received up to £25,000 in December 2020. It provides bookkeeping services and manages domestic personnel for Glympton Park. Companies House filings indicate the property was sold in March 2021 to the deputy prime minister of Bahrain.
Atheeb (UK) Ltd, claimed £10,000. Accounts say it provides services to Riyadh-based conglomerate Atheeb Holdings, and to “individuals related to” its owner, US-born Prince Abdulaziz bin Ahmed bin Abdulaziz al-Saud.
A relative, Prince Salman bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, owns a private limited company, which appears to manage a property in London’s prestigious Belgravia district, via a company in the British Virgin Islands. The company claimed up to £10,000.
One entry in the furlough register, for £10,000, gives only the name of HRH Prince Mohammed bin Saud bin Naif bin Abdulaziz al-Saud.
A Saudi embassy spokesperson said the companies had made “legitimate claims” that were a private matter.
The Ritz hotel, owned by the brother-in-law of the emir of Qatar, claimed up to £500,000. The Ritz said staff had been furloughed to prevent any job losses and that the owners made “very substantial additional payments” to ensure salaries were not reduced.
Harrods, owned by the Qatar Investment Authority, claimed up to £2.5m. State-controlled Qatar Airways benefited from £50,000 paid to its Edinburgh Park hotel.
Pal Zileri and Valentino England, luxury clothing companies owned by the former Qatari emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, took up to £35,000 between them.
Former prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani is listed as a person with significant control at Qaya Ltd, with the right to appoint and remove directors. The company, owned by an entity in the British Virgin Islands, took £10,000.
Requests for comment went unanswered.
The government of Dubai owns UK Mission Enterprise, via the British Virgin Islands. The company provides a “six-star” 24-hour concierge service to VIP clients and claimed up to £100,000.
The office of the ruler of Dubai, Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, claimed up to £55,000, including £10,000 each for luxury service apartment business Cheval Collection and hotels firm Jumeirah International (UK).
The crown prince, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohamed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, owns Shamal Overseas Shoreditch Ltd, a hotels and accommodation business that took up to £10,000.
Billionaires and multimillionaires
Len Blavatnik is the UK’s fourth richest man, with a net worth of £15.8bn. His co-owned First Access Entertainment, a talent agency and media company, claimed up to £10,000. He declined to comment.
Gambling software billionaire Teddy Sagi, worth £3.6bn, owns London’s Camden Market. Three of his companies claimed up to £120,000 between them. A spokesperson for Camden Market owner LabTech said it waived or reduced rents for tenants, made space available for soup kitchens and provided free office space to the NHS.
Julian Dunkerton, founder-boss of fashion brand Superdry, is worth £182m. His hotel business Lucky Onion claimed £150,000, while the Tavern, a pub in Cheltenham, claimed £10,000. A spokesperson said the furlough scheme had been used “exactly as the government intended”, saving 221 jobs.
Building firm Ochil Developments claimed up to £25,000. It is owned by the family of one of Scotland’s richest men, Mahdi Al Tajir, who also owns Highland Spring bottled water company.
Fayair, a luxury airport transfer business owned by former Harrods proprietor Mohamed Al Fayed, claimed up to £25,000.
Evgeny Lebedev, who owns the Independent and the Evening Standard newspapers, was elevated to the House of Lords last year. The Grapes pub in Limehouse, which he co-owns with actor Sir Ian McKellen, claimed up to £10,000.
Tax exiles, non-doms and battles with HMRC
Jim Ratcliffe, worth £12bn, was Britain’s richest man in 2018 but quit the UK for tax-free Monaco last year. His Lime Wood and Home Grown Hotels luxury hospitality businesses claimed a combined £600,000 while his fashion company, Belstaff, took £25,000.
Lord Ashcroft and family are worth £1.2bn. He has previously been non-domiciled in the UK for tax purposes although his current status is unclear. Companies House lists him as a person of significant control, with an address in Belize, for SUSD Asset Management and Shutdown Maintenance Services, which each claimed £10,000.
Guy Hands, the Guernsey-based financier behind private equity group Terra Firma, is the owner of Hand Picked Hotels, which claimed up to £50,000. He once said he did not visit the UK for fear of being taxed there. Hands said: “Without government support, I would have had no option but to close Hand Picked Hotels. I have put £28m into the business, which has lost £18.5m since last March. The furlough scheme has helped protect the jobs of 700 people.”
Other billionaires who are not tax residents in the UK include retail tycoon Philip Green, whose crumbling Arcadia empire claimed up to £2.5m and Sir Richard Branson, whose Virgin Atlantic claimed £5m.
The British National party may no longer have any councillors but it claimed up to £10,000. A spokesperson for the party, led by Adam Walker, said its employees “should not be discriminated against because some people may hold different political views than their employer”.
Very few other political parties made claims but they include Brexit Party Ltd, which is owned by Nigel Farage, and the Socialist party. Each claimed up to £10,000.
Football clubs, celebrities and more
Arconic Manufacturing (GB) is a subsidiary of the company that made the cladding for the Grenfell Tower. It claimed up to £500,000, which it said protected 380 jobs and was used as the government intended.
Four football clubs – Newcastle United, Leeds United, Sheffield United and Burnley – claimed up to £575,000 between them. None were willing to comment but two stressed financial difficulties due to the lack of revenue from fans during the pandemic. The effect is thought to be particularly difficult to manage for newly promoted sides.
A host of celebrities have previously been reported as having furloughed staff at their personal companies, including model Cara Delevingne, two golf courses owned by former president Donald Trump, Tony and Cherie Blair, Jamie Oliver Group and Samantha Cameron’s fashion brand Cefinn.
This article was amended on 29 March 2021 to remove some personal information.