Is Britain for Sale?

Eat Your Weetabix breakfast, drink a glass of water and set off to your local Barclays branch to make a quick withdrawal before filling your car up at BP. It only takes a simple search for it become apparent that China has been investing heavily in the UK; your morning routine is proof of this. Weetabix often takes pride in its British heritage, yet 60% of Weetabix shares are owned by China. Whilst you quenched your thirst with the glass of water, it is doubtful that the question as to who owns Thames Water would have crossed your mind. To your surprise, 9% is owned by China. However China also invested $3 billion in a 3% share of Barclays and $2 billion for a 1% share of BP; and it is apparent that more investment is due- China having recently agreed to invest a very large sum in the Hinkley Point power plant due to start operating in 2023.

Despite the impression this may give, it is clear that China is not the only prominent investor in the UK. British car manufacturing icons have undergone new ownership, such as Rolls-Royce (now owned by Issetta from Germany), Jaguar and Land Rover (both owned by Tata Motors from India). This ownership also spans over many other industries, including the retail industry. Harrods, suppliers of luxury goods for the rich and famous were recently acquired by the Qatari royal family for £1.5 billion. The list of now foreign owned British companies continues to grow.

Despite this however, many argue that the takeover with the greatest impacts are those takeovers within the British property market, particularly in large cities such as London. Prices of property in London and the South East have grown to 5.3% annually, with first time buyers paying 6.4% than they did in 2012. Although this is beneficial to those who already have ownership of a home, most are struggling to get on the property ladder, with the emergence of ‘Generation rent’ becoming of greater concern to the government. More foreign investors are pursuing properties in the capital to take advantage of a monumental increase in house prices- with average house prices having increased by around £50,000 or 11.6% between November 2012 and November 2013. This is greater than the average London salary of £37,000. Astoundingly, 75% of new homes in inner London and half of central London’s £1 million plus homes were purchased by foreigners, who intend to let the property out whilst allowing the price of the housing to increase as an asset.

Such iconic projects such as the glimmering shard, the tallest building in Western Europe would never have been financially feasible without foreign investment. This has also helped to highlight the partnership Britain holds with other countries such as Qatar, perhaps this contribution makes England a more unique and diverse country that continues to be a collaborative hub for trade.

So, is Britain for sale? This question is dependant upon many perspectives as it is important to note that Britain also benefits from the investment. International relations with Britain have improved, with Britain now selling its services abroad. British architects now sell their services to Dubai and products from British pharmaceutical companies are in greater demand abroad. The current conservative government welcomes investment and will continue to do so however future political opinions may differ and therefore may change the extent to which foreign investment influences Britain’s economy.

Contributed by Kerolous Hanna

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