Why is London filling up with the very very rich?

Foreign investors flooding in.

The allure of the UK to overseas buyers has been apparent for some time and certainly long before we had a home-grown Wimbledon champion, victorious rugby and cricket teams, the birth of a Royal baby and what seems like endless blue skies and hot sunshine!

Indeed, much has been made of the influx of high net worth non-UK nationals to London and its impact on London’s buoyant prime residential property market. Undeterred in most cases by the recent hike in stamp duty land tax rates imposed upon houses priced at more than £2m, statistics show that foreign investors (and especially those who are victims of the worldwide economic turmoil, euro crisis and rising wealth taxes in their home countries) continue to look to London.

It is understood that between 45 and 65 per cent of London’s most desirable areas are owned by high net worth individuals from abroad. But, what is it that makes UK, and in particular, London, so desirable?

Recent commentary suggests that one explanation for the movement of foreign investment into the UK is that beneficial exchange rates are effectively giving those buying into London huge purchasing power, with some currencies having appreciated as much as 45 per cent against sterling over the past five years. 

Overseas buyers can, therefore, enjoy a healthy discount on their property investment as a direct result of the depreciation of sterling – the deals often made even sweeter by the UK’s low interest rates.

However, experience shows that, while these economic factors are no doubt influential, there are a number of other drivers of market demand such as the UK’s stable legal system as well as its status as an unlikely low tax jurisdiction.

Indeed, the UK has an established history of political and social stability, coupled with a sophisticated legal system, and comprehensive (if occasionally unwieldy) tax code. It boasts a comprehensive network of bilateral tax treaties: principally in respect of income tax, capital gains tax and corporation tax but also inheritance tax. 

In particular, the tax regime is highly beneficial for individuals who become resident in the UK without also becoming "domiciled" here – provided they structure their affairs appropriately.

Furthermore, it is relatively simple for international UHNWs to come to the UK. As a member state of the European Union, EU citizens of course benefit from the fundamental freedom of free movement. However, for non-EU/EEA nationals, it is possible to obtain an "investor visa" by making a £1m, £5m, or £10m investment in specified "permitted investments" in the UK (with a view to obtaining settlement in the UK within 2-5 years). Surely a relatively inexpensive gateway to the UK?

The UK investment opportunities generated by strong currencies may be relatively short-lived. Much the same might be said for this glorious weather. However, London has long been regarded as a key international business centre, a safe political haven, extremely strong in its professional services offering and a centre of educational excellence. It is perhaps, therefore, not so difficult to see why, all things considered, London really is the capital city of choice for the internationally mobile UNHWs.

Lydia Essa works for private wealth law firm Maurice Turnor Gardner LLP.

This piece first appeared on Spear's.

Photograph: Getty Images

This is a story from the team at Spears magazine.

Photo: Getty Images
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The future of policing is still at risk even after George Osborne's U-Turn

The police have avoided the worst, but crime is changing and they cannot stand still. 

We will have to wait for the unofficial briefings and the ministerial memoirs to understand what role the tragic events in Paris had on the Chancellor’s decision to sustain the police budget in cash terms and increase it overall by the end of the parliament.  Higher projected tax revenues gave the Chancellor a surprising degree of fiscal flexibility, but the atrocities in Paris certainly pushed questions of policing and security to the top of the political agenda. For a police service expecting anything from a 20 to a 30 per cent cut in funding, fears reinforced by the apparent hard line the Chancellor took over the weekend, this reprieve is an almighty relief.  

So, what was announced?  The overall police budget will be protected in real terms (£900 million more in cash terms) up to 2019/20 with the following important caveats.  First, central government grant to forces will be reduced in cash terms by 2019/20, but forces will be able to bid into a new transformation fund designed to finance moves such as greater collaboration between forces.  In other words there is a cash frozen budget (given important assumptions about council tax) eaten away by inflation and therefore requiring further efficiencies and service redesign. 

Second, the flat cash budget for forces assumes increases in the police element of the council tax. Here, there is an interesting new flexibility for Police and Crime Commissioners.  One interpretation is that instead of precept increases being capped at 2%, they will be capped at £12 million, although we need further detail to be certain.  This may mean that forces which currently raise relatively small cash amounts from their precept will be able to raise considerably more if Police and Crime Commissioners have the courage to put up taxes.  

With those caveats, however, this is clearly a much better deal for policing than most commentators (myself included) predicted.  There will be less pressure to reduce officer numbers. Neighbourhood policing, previously under real threat, is likely to remain an important component of the policing model in England and Wales.  This is good news.

However, the police service should not use this financial reprieve as an excuse to duck important reforms.  The reforms that the police have already planned should continue, with any savings reinvested in an improved and more effective service.

It would be a retrograde step for candidates in the 2016 PCC elections to start pledging (as I am certain many will) to ‘protect officer numbers’.  We still need to rebalance the police workforce.   We need more staff with the kind of digital skills required to tackle cybercrime.  We need more crime analysts to help deploy police resources more effectively.  Blanket commitments to maintain officer numbers will get in the way of important reforms.

The argument for inter-force collaboration and, indeed, force mergers does not go away. The new top sliced transformation fund is designed in part to facilitate collaboration, but the fact remains that a 43 force structure no longer makes sense in operational or financial terms.

The police still have to adapt to a changing world. Falling levels of traditional crime and the explosion in online crime, particularly fraud and hacking, means we need an entirely different kind of police service.  Many of the pressures the police experience from non-crime demand will not go away. Big cuts to local government funding and the wider criminal justice system mean we need to reorganise the public service frontline to deal with problems such as high reoffending rates, child safeguarding and rising levels of mental illness.

Before yesterday I thought policing faced an existential moment and I stand by that. While the service has now secured significant financial breathing space, it still needs to adapt to an increasingly complex world. 

Rick Muir is director of the Police Foundation