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Calls for Buckingham Palace to be more open about finances

Rebecca Taylor
·Royal Correspondent
·6-min read
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II attends a ceremony to mark her official birthday at Windsor Castle in Windsor, southeast England on June 13, 2020, as Britain's Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her 94th birthday this year. (Photo by TOBY MELVILLE / POOL / AFP) (Photo by TOBY MELVILLE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth II at the Trooping the Colour in 2020. (AFP)

Buckingham Palace should be more open with its finances, according to a royal financial expert, who says the public is being misled over how much the monarchy costs.

David McClure, who has written two books on the monarchy and their money, told Yahoo UK the palace should be more transparent with its finances as the Sovereign Grant report revealed some detail about royal funding.

The report, released on Friday, showed there is a potential £35m shortfall in the royal budget, which could impact the ongoing renovations at Buckingham Palace.

Each year, there is a single day where the report is released and questions from the media are fielded by royal representatives.

McClure said: “Are we getting clarity, the whole point of this one day of the year when it comes is to get clarity and I do not think it is totally clear whether the public is getting value for money.”

McClure pointed out the cost per head of the monarchy, this year set at £1.23, “sounds a bargain” but that it is given per person not per taxpayer.

That means children are included as if they were paying for the Royal Family, which is not technically the case.

There are 30.3m UK taxpayers, making the cost per taxpayer more like £2.70.

A cycle tour group ride in the rain outside Buckingham Palace, London, as many parts of the UK experience wet weather ahead of the arrival of Storm Ellen, which is forecast to bring strong winds. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images)
Buckingham Palace faces a shortfall for renovation costs. (PA Images)

Read more: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's £246,000 Africa tour was the most expensive royal trip of 2019

McClure added: “The Sovereign Grant is one thing, the total cost is another.

“The total cost has been estimated to be two to three times the grant. If they do want to come clean, there should be an open discussion on that.

“The reason the figure is bigger is because of security, the cost for local councils when there is a visit by the Royal Family. It would be quite nice if the palace could be more forthcoming as to the total cost and we could have a mature debate with the public about it.”

One of the areas the grant report is most open about is travel expenses, with everything above £15,000 itemised.

In this 2019/20 report, it emerged that Harry and Meghan’s travel during their tour in southern Africa came to nearly £246,000, while £15,848 was spent getting Prince Andrew to Northern Ireland for the Royal Portrush Golf Club’s Open championship.

The Duke of York’s trip was taken before he stepped back from royal duties.

McClure said: “Travel has always been an achilles heel for the Royal Family because it takes up such a large slice of the grant, about 10% and it’s fully disclosed.

“It would be nice if more items of expenditure were itemised.

“We don’t know what it going on behind items under £15,000. The bar is set quite high.”

Members of the public arrive to visit Windsor Castle on 23rd August 2020 in Windsor, United Kingdom. The Sunday Times has reported that the Queen will make Windsor Castle her main home for the rest of the year following her summer break at Balmoral rather than returning to Buckingham Palace because her household arrangements at Windsor Castle are believed to offer the greatest protection from COVID-19. (photo by Mark Kerrison/In Pictures via Getty Images)
The closure of Windsor Castle and others during the pandemic affected finances. (In Pictures)

Read more: Royal Family cost taxpayers '10 times more than public realised', unearthed documents claim

Republic, which campaigns for an elected head of state, has also renewed its criticism of the expenditure of the Royal Family.

Graham Smith, of Republic said: “At a time when public sector jobs are being lost and services cut, these figures represent a disgraceful abuse of public money by the royals. There is no justification for spending a quarter of a million pounds on a trip to Africa or more than £200,000 to fly to Oman.

“And they’re all at. Thousands of pounds spent on junkets for Anne and Andrew, so they can attend sporting events. This is not public service, it’s daylight robbery.”

He added: “A 15% increase in travel costs when hospitals can’t deliver the very best care to every person in need, when teachers are struggling to pay for the necessary books and equipment and the police are stretched to breaking point, is scandalous.”

The Sovereign Grant replaced the Civil List in 2011, and is linked to the profits of the Crown Estate.

All the profits go to the treasury, and there’s a two year lag in how much goes into the Sovereign Grant. That means the palace will see the effect of the downturn because of coronavirus in two years time.

However the forecast is for a £15m downturn in the next three years from the Royal Collection Trust, which manages things like the summer opening of Buckingham Palace.

It also looks like there will be a £20m shortfall for the resurfacing work at Buckingham Palace, which will have a total cost of £369m.

McClure added: “Palace finances are in a pickle, it should be remembered that the Sovereign Grant has gone up by £20m [over several years], that is a rise of 65%, at a time when inflation was only 20%.”

He said the current gap could be the result of the “generous funding system”, which might have “encouraged the palace to spend more freely”.

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - OCTOBER 02: (UK OUT FOR 28 DAYS) Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex visit the British High Commissioner's residence to attend an afternoon reception to celebrate the UK and South Africa’s important business and investment relationship, looking ahead to the Africa Investment Summit the UK will host in 2020. This is part of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's royal tour to South Africa. on October 02, 2019 in Johannesburg, South Africa.  (Photo by Pool/Samir Hussein/WireImage)
Harry and Meghan's trip to southern Africa was the biggest travel bill for the royals. (WireImage)

Read more: Things you never knew were on the Queen's land - from fast food chains and shopping centres

McClure said: “COVID is going to have a long-term effect, not just six months, on foreign visitors to Britain. That income is going to be depressed for a long time.”

Citing a leaked letter earlier this year from Lord Chamberlain which suggested there could be job cuts ahead, he said that tourism accounts for about a third of funds for the royal household.

The RCT has warned of job losses this year, and forecast a £30m dip because of coronavirus.

Reflecting on the year 2019-20, the Keeper of the Privy Purse, Sir Michael Stevens, said: The majority of the year under review took place before the impact of COVID-19 set in, with the Royal Family undertaking a range of significant visits to communities in the UK and overseas. The Queen hosted the President and First Lady of the United States of America on a State Visit and led the country in national moments of remembrance such as the 75th anniversary of D-Day and Armistice Day.

“Although COVID-19 has temporarily changed the format of engagements and events, it has not changed the sense of continuity, reassurance and recognition they provide. Her Majesty’s programme, supported by Her family, will continue to develop meaningful ways to lead the nation through this time.”

Sir Michael said there was no intention to ask for any extra funding.