DEBATE: Should we put the royal family on a budget?

Graham Smith and Edward Kendall

July 7, 2022

Graham Smith, CEO of Republic, an organisation campaigning for the abolition of the monarchy, argues YES

It strikes me as pretty extraordinary, that the question should be asked as to whether a major national institution, one funded by the government, should be put on a normal budgetary footing. Every institution in the country has to go through the annual process of reviewing its finances, proposing a budget for the following year and submitting that to whoever it is that approves their spending of public money. Except for the monarchy.

The only argument I’ve ever heard to defend this is that it maintains the monarch’s independence. But that doesn’t add up, because lots of public officials are required to be independent, including police officers, the judiciary and various regulators. And because the monarch is not independent, she is there to do what she’s told by the prime minister. It also makes no sense because we can look around at other parliamentary democracies, including other monarchies, in Europe and see heads of state that have annual budgets set by parliament.

The royal household’s funding is entirely arbitrary, linked not to what it needs but to the rising profits of the Crown Estate, a state-owned property portfolio. I say rising profits because if those profits fall, as they have as a result of the pandemic, the Sovereign Grant doesn’t fall. And if one year the royals don’t spend what they’ve been given they don’t return the surplus to the government, they keep it for a rainy day, without any impact on what they’ll receive from the government next year.

This is an arbitrary, wasteful, unaccountable and irresponsible means of funding a public body. It makes no sense unless understood as a way for politicians to avoid talking about royal accounts, or to obfuscate the nature of royal funding. It has no place in a democratic society.


Edward Kendall, Research Lead for Civility and Order at Orthodox Conservatives, argues NO

In 2021-22, the Sovereign Grant, the annual sum of money that HM Treasury pays to the monarch, was increased to £86.3mill, or £1.29 per taxpayer. This increase will be used to pay for the refurbishment of Buckingham Palace, which is expected to take ten years to complete. The remainder is spent on the monarch’s usual core functions such as paying staff, royal travel, and property maintenance.

Money for Sovereign Grant comes from the Crown Estate, which whilst being owned by the Crown the profits go directly to HM Treasury. Our elected politicians then decide on the appropriate percentage of profits to allocate to the Sovereign Grant. This is usually pegged at 15 per cent of profits from the previous two years, with the remainder going to the government to be spent on the public services we expect from our government. In other words, we are the net beneficiaries of the Crown Estate as the taxpayer doesn’t spend a penny on the Sovereign Grant – it is merely an allocation of the profits from the Crown Estate being returned to the monarch.

But now that we have settled that we are the greatest beneficiaries of the Crown Estate’s profits, what about the percentile that is allotted to the Sovereign Grant? What is the justification for the increase?

Well, the increase in allocated funds reflects the cost of the planned £369 million refurbishment of Buckingham Palace, which is not only a royal home but also a major office space for the Royal Household and staff as well as being a venue for major charitable (the Queen is patron of over 500 charities across the UK and Commonwealth) and state functions. Furthermore, the refurbishment will pour money into the construction sector and help revamp our economy following the ravages imposed on it by the pandemic.

Given that we gain far more from the monarch and the Crown Estate than they gain from us, the very least we can do is agree to an increase in the Sovereign Grant to pay for the refurbishment of Buckingham Palace in return for the incredible services rendered to us over many years by our Queen.


Written by Graham Smith and Edward Kendall

Graham Smith is CEO of Republic and Edward Kendall is Research Lead for Civility and Order at Orthodox Conservatives.

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