THE BILLIONAIRE head of a chemicals company and the fifth richest man in Britain has furloughed hundreds of staff from his luxury hotel groups.

New Forest resident Sir James Ratcliffe, who is also the chief executive of multinational chemical and gas firm Ineos, has placed almost 800 members of staff at Home Grown Hotels and Lime Wood group on furlough - which he mostly owns.

The 67-year-old is believed to be worth £12.2billion according to today's Rich List.

But now, it has been announced that the hotel company - which has a base in the New Forest - would be making use of the furlough scheme and the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme.

The news was revealed by the hotel chain's chief executive and chairman Robin Hutson, who also wrote a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying that furlough ceasing and hospitality business opening under social distancing rules would lead to "permanent loss of hundreds of thousands of rural jobs".

Bournemouth Echo:

He wrote that the scheme had "prevented significant job loss", while confirming that the company had placed 782 staff on furlough.

After sending the letter, he wrote on social media: "[Chancellor] Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson just need progress with the virus to ease distancing in hospitality.

"Seasonal and rural businesses still need further winter support for survival, plus a plan for extra debt incurred by delayed bills and payments during closure."

Sir James, who lives near Beaulieu, in Hampshire, is also reportedly seeking an emergency loan from the government for Petroineos, a joint partnership with his chemical company Ineos, which has not furloughed any of its 3,000 staff.

Last year, it was reported that he had plans to move to Monaco, where residents do not pay income tax.

Under the government scheme announced by Mr Sunak last month, employers can claim a grant covering 80 per cent of wages for a furloughed employee at a maximum of £2,500 a month.