Paying for Buckingham Palace

24 November 2016
What was claimed

Profit on the Crown Estate over the last 10 years is enough to pay for the renovation of Buckingham Palace six times over.

Our verdict

That’s about right.

“The Crown Estate has already paid for the renovation [of Buckingham Palace] many times over by way of their contributions to Government revenue. In fact, they’ve already paid for it six times over in the last ten years alone having paid £2.4 billion to the Treasury over that period”

Huffington Post, 21 November 2016

These figures are correct. The Treasury has received £2.4 billion in profit on assets owned by the Crown since 2007, which is more than six times the £369 million estimated cost of refitting Buckingham Palace over the next 10 years.

That said, the level of the monarchy’s public funding is based on the profits of the Crown Estate. So by our calculations the Treasury’s net profit, if you like, has been more like £2.1 billion over the last decade. It's then down to the government to decide how it spends that moneywhether that be on Buckingham Palace or other priorities.

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The government keeps most of the money from Crown assets

The Crown Estate is land and other assets owned by the British monarchy. It’s not the Queen’s personal property, though: she can’t sell any of it. The Crown Estate comes with the job.

Worth £12.9 billion, the Crown Estate includes half of St James’s in central London, various business parks and shopping centres around Great Britain, offshore wind farms, and 136,000 hectares of rural land.

It’s managed by independent commissioners rather than by the monarchy or the government. They hand over the profit from rent and other income from the Crown Estate to the Treasury, as has been the case since 1760.

The Queen gets a sum equivalent to 15% of this in a ‘Sovereign Grant’ to spend on the royal family’s official duties, such as visits abroad, staff salaries, and upkeep on palaces like Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.

But the government says that the cost of “essential” repair work needed on Buckingham Palace means that 15% isn’t enough. So the Sovereign Grant is going to be increased to 25% of the profit on the Crown Estate—meaning that, in effect, less will go to the Treasury for the next 10 years or so.

Could Her Majesty pay for it herself?

That decision has given rise to a petition, signed at time of writing by over 140,000 people, demanding that the Royal Family pay for the repairs.

The Queen and her family do have private sources of income, separate from the Crown Estate lands.

Since 1399, land and property in the Duchy of Lancaster has provided the monarch with a ‘Privy Purse’. This is income that can be spent on whatever the Queen wants, although the House of Commons Library says that some of it is spent on her official duties. In 2015, the Privy Purse came to £16 million.

The Duchy of Lancaster is held in trust for the Queen, and there is significant government involvement and oversight of it. The same goes for the Duchy of Cornwall, which provided the Prince of Wales with over £20 million in 2015.

The Queen also has the legal right to own private wealth like anyone else. And like most people, she doesn’t feel the need to make public how much she’s personally worth. So we don’t know exactly how much she could in theory put towards repair work on Buckingham Palace, although Bloomberg and the Sunday Times have estimated her personal fortune at around £340 million.

The rationale for increasing the Sovereign Grant instead is that Buckingham Palace isn’t just a place for the Queen to live. The government points to the economic value of the palace as a tourist attraction, and to the official events that take place there.

Those signing the petition against this decision may view Buckingham Palace as more of a personal asset, and the Crown Estate as a public asset rather than the monarch’s.

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