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On Friday, Evolve Politics reported on the story that Buckingham Palace is to undergo a 10-year refurbishment that will cost the taxpayer £369m. That’s an increase of 66% in spending on the monarchy in the next 10 years. As the Conservative government is currently implementing a swathe of cuts to public services, welfare and the NHS, the Treasury’s decision to fund this work has met with an understandably hostile reception.
But whilst there is huge anger at these spending plans, there are also many who support the use of this huge chunk of public money to fund repairs to one of the many residences occupied by the Queen and her family. The main argument it seems, is that whatever we spend on the royals, we more than make back in the revenue they bring in via business and tourism. But is there actually any evidence for this?
Research recently carried out by Brand Finance suggests that the total value of the monarchy to the UK’s economy is an estimated £1.155 billion for 2015. However, of this amount, £152m has been attributed to the “Kate Effect”, which Brand Finance define as an “uplift to fashion and other brands worn, used or otherwise endorsed.” Another £101m has been attributed to the “Charlotte Effect” and £76m to the “George Effect.” In relation to this, they also calculate a further £114m in the “Estimated value of PR.”
The brand valuation consultancy’s calculations for tourism revenue connected to the monarchy and its heritage has been valued at £535 million for 2015. But the UK’s independent tourism body, VisitBritain states that although international tourism is Britain’s third largest service export, with inbound tourism to Britain worth £26.2 billion, only a tiny portion of that sum can be connected to events, properties and attractions with a link to the British monarchy and its heritage.
VisitBritain says that no exact figure can be given for the amount the royals contribute to tourism revenues, and further scrutiny of the types of places included in the list of attractions suggest only tenuous links to the monarchy. Sites such as the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey are of huge national and international interest. Visits to these properties would not cease without a monarchy, and revenue would in fact decrease if any of the royals were in residence there.
The Palace of Versailles is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world, and the single most lucrative tourist site in France. If it was still used as a royal residence, as Buckingham Palace is, then the revenue would be significantly reduced. Of course income generated from visits to royal residences such as Buckingham Palace would vastly increase if, as MP’s have repeatedly requested, they were opened as year-round attractions. However, the royal family have consistently refused to do this. Any other family refusing to comply with government demands over state funded welfare payments would be sanctioned.
Campaign group Republic, which calls for the abolition of the monarchy, suggest that rather than the monarchy adding money to the UK economy, the royals actually cost us £334m a year. Their research suggests that each “working royal” costs the taxpayer £18.5 million a piece. They argue that surplus from the Crown Estate should not be included as a source of revenue, as Brand Finance’s research has done, as it is a property investment vehicle managed, but not owned by the Queen.
Republic’s research suggests that costs from various sources, including the Sovereign Grant, costs to local councils, security and policing costs, combined with losses incurred by the private estates of the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall, actually amount to a £333.9m price tag for taxpayers.
Given the fact that there is absolutely no credible evidence that the monarchy generates any profit whatsoever for the country, and that reports into the actual cost of the royals can only be estimated due to a lack of information, it would seem that calls for more open scrutiny of the royal household’s accounts are not unreasonable.
However in 2011, the government introduced new legislation that exempts the royal family, and their staff, from the Freedom of Information Act. This means that even if it’s in the public interest, details of publicly funded royal finances, and the monarchy’s interference in UK politics, must, by law, remain secret. This decision leaves claims that the monarchy is a financial benefit to the country open to some serious questions. If they are in fact bringing in the vast income their supporters argue, then why would they go to such extreme lengths to hide the evidence from those who state otherwise?
Blogger Another Angry Voice sums up exactly why this exemption from scrutiny is so damning of the royal’s true financial benefit to Britain:
One must wonder why such a conspicuous veil of secrecy over the royal finances is necessary. If the royal family really are the “net contributors” that royal sycophants endlessly claim that they are, then surely they should be proud to demonstrate their “net contribution” in an accountable manner, rather than deliberately hiding it from public scrutiny.
But can’t we just ignore a bit of financial jiggery-pokery? Surely the royals show Britain at its best? The Queen is reported to have around £300m in personal wealth, while land owned by the monarchy is thought to be worth more than £7bn. The Crown Estate owns a portfolio of property investments, including Regent Street in London, part of the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent, and Ascot racecourse in Berkshire from which she takes a rapidly increasing income. And in 2013, whilst public services were being slashed, and funding taken away from the poor, sick and disabled, the government forged a deal for Buckingham Palace that meant it would be protected from any cuts to public funding, and further agreed that the monarchy would receive 15% of profits of the £9.9 billion Crown Estate.
They also decided that the amount the Queen would receive would never be less than the amount received in the previous year. This deal saw a huge rise in what the Queen received – £40 million in 2014-15, which was a 29% increase in the £31 million she received in 2012-13. In 2017-18, she will receive more than £76m, a massive increase from the £46m she was previously expected to receive, meaning the agreed 15% has now jumped to 25%. This vast cut of the profits from Crown Estate investments is in part meant to fund the maintenance of certain royal residences. So with such a huge fund available, combined with the revenue made from tourists visiting Buckingham Palace, why has this royal residence been allowed to get to such a state of disrepair that it warrants a £369m repair bill? Perhaps this enormous cost could have been reduced if services had been regularly updated.
Whatever the financial and moral cost of the monarchy, the Royals are arguably a tradition that is deeply entrenched in some people’s idea of Britishness. But so is the NHS, and using the excuse of ‘austerity’, the government has seen no problem in ripping it apart and selling the pieces to the highest bidder. The royal family and its vast property portfolio has remained safe from either scrutiny, or the Grim reaper’s scythe.
Shouldn’t we, at a time of such apparently extreme financial difficulty, expect the same treatment be given to all publicly funded institutions?