RIYADH: One of the leading advocates of stronger relations between Saudi Arabia and Britain believes the opposition expressed in some parts of the UK over the takeover of Newcastle United Football Club is just “noise.”
Ken Costa, the former investment banker who has been Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s special envoy for the past three years, told Arab News: “It’s a competitive world. You see a strong player coming into your market, what do you want to do? You want to create noise. A lot of it is noise, a lot of it is trying to find reasons why it (the takeover) couldn’t happen, but it has happened.”
Costa was speaking on the sidelines of the FII forum in Riyadh, which he was attending as part of the British delegation. He said that the Newcastle deal — by a consortium 80 percent controlled by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, the PIF, was a good thing for the economy of the northeast of England.
“There is a very real possibility of welcoming Saudi investment into a part of the UK to create jobs to be able to be working in and around something where people can really identify with, which is football and the football club. It’s a positive thing for the fans and for football generally,” he added.
Costa was a high-profile investment banker in London for decades, but since leaving the chairmanship of Lazards he has been focusing on investment management for high net worth individuals, most recently as co-chairman of Alvarium Investments, which has just merged with the Tiedmann group to form a $1.4 billion investment management group.
In 2018, he was appointed as special envoy to Saudi Arabia when the current prime minister was foreign secretary, and has been involved in some of the big recent transactions between the Kingdom and the UK.
“I have been the special representative of the prime minister for the last three years and, coming to the end of that, I have been able to see the extraordinary depth of the commitment between the two countries.
“With Invesment Minister Lord Grimstone leading the initiatives here we have got a real opportunity of being able to see capital flowing — intellectual capital but also real capital, coming from the Kingdom into the UK and vice versa,” he said.
Costa cited the £20 billion investment by PIF into Britain as an example of the kind of transaction that is likely to come from a new spirit of partnership between the two countries.
“It’s very good at the moment and of course there is a long history of good personal relationships between the people of the Kingdom and Britain,” he added.
Costa was active in the campaign to get Saudi Aramco to list on the London Stock Exchange, which was eventually dropped when the Saudi oil company decided to go for a purely domestic listing. But, with suggestions that more shares might be sold, he still believes the UK capital is the natural place, despite concerns by some investors about backing hydrocarbon-based businesses.
“I think that there is an investment case and London is the obvious place. It is the deepest capital market and it is the global capital market. So let’s hope for that,”
The new Alvarium Tiedmann group will list on a public stock market some time soon, Costa said. He is considering whether to set up a permanent office in the Middle East, and is looking at Riyadh as a possible location for a regional headquarters.
Costa is looking to tap into the huge funds which will change hands between generations in the next few years, which some experts believe will amount to $100 trillion worth of wealth in the US alone over the next decade.
“That’s very exciting because this next generation has really got their values clearly focused on being environmentally friendly and in particular inclusive capitalism and that makes a difference.
“This is a generation that not only sees these values but has actually got the financial capital to be able to affect these changes.”