Jim Ratcliffe bemoans UK government’s lack of Budget ‘rigour’

Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the billionaire owner of petrochemicals group Ineos, has issued a damning verdict on the recent UK “mini” Budget, saying the government “needs to get more rigour”.

Ratcliffe, one of Britain’s most successful businessmen who built Ineos into one of the world’s largest petrochemical groups, said rigour had been fundamental to its success. Asked whether anyone at Ineos would ever countenance proposing a deal that was not fully costed, Ratcliffe said it would be a “very short conversation”, insisting that it would simply never happen.

To be successful in business, he said, you had to be rigorous. While the government had done a good thing by introducing an energy cap for businesses to help with soaring prices, the budget “clearly didn’t have a lot of rigour”. 

“If you are giving stuff away, you either have to do some savings or borrow. You have to balance your books somehow or other,” Ratcliffe told an FT conference on Tuesday.

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Ratcliffe’s comments are among the most outspoken by a business leader since Kwasi Kwarteng, the chancellor, delivered his unfunded tax-cutting “mini” Budget, which has sparked turmoil in the markets and sent the government’s cost of borrowing soaring. Kwarteng, who is under pressure to spell out how he will balance the books through either higher growth or public cuts, is scheduled to put flesh on his plans at the end of the month.

Ratcliffe also criticised the government over what he said was a lack of an energy policy which had left supplies exposed in the event of a cold winter. The UK, he said “doesn’t really have an energy strategy that is coherent compared to the US”. 

Such a policy needed a long-term plan, he added, bemoaning the lack of an energy minister with a science degree. “It’s like the Royal Opera House being run by a physicist,” he said.

An outspoken proponent of shale gas, Ratcliffe said his company had reiterated a previous proposal to drill test wells to show that fracking can be done safely to bolster domestic energy supplies. Liz Truss, the prime minister, has vowed to lift a three-year ban on fracking in England as part of a wider package aimed at cutting Britain’s reliance on imported gas in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Ineos is understood to have been invited to meet advisers to the prime minister to discuss its shale plans.

One of Britain’s most successful postwar industrialists, Ratcliffe founded Ineos in 1998. In the first 10 years, the company made more than 20 acquisitions, snapping up unloved commodity businesses from the likes of ICI, BP and BASF as these giants themselves restructured.

Today the group’s activities span oil and gasfields, refineries and chemical works. His business empire also includes a number of consumer brands and sports interests including football club OGC Nice and a stake in the Mercedes Formula One racing team.

Ratcliffe, who made a late bid to buy Chelsea Football Club during its sale process earlier this year, said his company would have had a go at buying rival Manchester United but stressed that the club was not on the market.

“If it had been for sale in the summer we would probably have had a go following on from the Chelsea thing but we can’t sit around hoping Man United becomes available.”

Ratcliffe, knighted in the Queen’s birthday honours list in June 2018, still owns around 60 per cent of the group, giving him a personal fortune estimated at £6.075bn by the Sunday Times and placing him 27th on its 2022 Rich List.

Ineos relocated its headquarters from the UK to Lausanne in 2010 to save on tax. It moved back to Britain in 2016 although many of its businesses still have their headquarters in Switzerland.

Ratcliffe, 69, who moved his tax residency to Monaco in 2019, defended the move, noting that he had spent most of his working life in the UK and only moved at the age of 65.

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