It may sound like a great excuse for a soapbox moment: ‘Queenie gets more dough while the rest of us struggle to make ends meet’, but the increase in the sovereign’s income is actually down to new laws governing the way she is paid.
It used to be the Civil List, a mysterious and opaque method of bankrolling the queen’s official engagements. But George Osborne scrapped this back in 2011 in favour of the Sovereign Grant, which pays the queen 15% of the value of the Crown Estate’s profits in any given year.
Profits in the latest financial year increased by 5.2% to £252.6m, and its total capital value rose to just over £8.6bn. That nets the queen £37.89m for next year, compared with £36.1m this year. This year’s figure was a sizeable £2m more than Buckingham Palace anticipated, too. It is thought that these surpluses will be spent on urgently needed maintenance and building work on the various royal pads around the UK.
So what is the Crown Estate, and how does it generate so much cash? It is one of the largest property owners in the UK, and it handles the queen’s property and business interests on her behalf. In its portfolio are large swathes of London property including the whole of Regent Street, most of the UK’s coastline and millions of acres of farmland. All of its profits go to the Treasury first before the queen gets her cheque.
The point of moving over to the Sovereign Grant system was to make the system more transparent (to assuage the anguish of republicans who wanted royal spending scrutinised), and to attempt to tie the queen’s earnings to the economic turbulence that everyone else has to deal with. The fact that she’s had a stonking couple of years is more down to good business by Crown Estate bosses than some gratuitous handout at a time of economic woe.
And anyway, the system means the royal family will make a net contribution of £212m to the government pot – an income tax rate of 85%. Not to mention that Buckingham Palace itself has been working to drive down spending – budgets are down 15% in real terms compared with five years ago. That’s been achieved through wage freezes for gardeners, servants, footmen, butlers and secretaries.
No word on Corgis or swan dishes, however.