Queen Elizabeth II is a truly remarkable woman. Britain’s longest reigning monarch, she is also probably the only person to occupy the throne who has been trained to change a spark plug – in the army in 1945.
After the national celebrations to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday it seems tactless to ask how much the royal family costs the UK. Tactless and, it turns out, not that helpful – because estimates differ so wildly.
Officially in 2014-15, the cost to taxpayers was £35.7m, the amount paid to the Windsors by the government under the Sovereign Grant (which replaced the Civil List in 2012). That works out at around 56p for each of Her Majesty’s ‘subjects’. The Grant is also partly financed by a percentage of the profits made by the Crown Estate, a valuable – and diverse – portfolio of UK buildings, shoreline, seabed, forestry, agriculture and common land.
On top of that, the Queen receives the net profits from her own private land and property portfolio, known as the Duchy of Lancaster, on which she pays an undisclosed amount of tax. In 2015, the profit amounted to £12.5m, which is used to support other members of the royal family and maintain Balmoral Castle.
Technically, she also owns all the whales, sturgeons and dolphins within a few miles of the British coast – they were designated “fishes royal” in an act passed under Edward I in the 14th century.
The Duchy of Cornwall, which owns 133,658 acres of land in 23 counties, generated an income of £28.8m in 2012, £19m of which was received by Prince Charles partly to fund his public, charitable and official duties. The heir to the throne voluntarily pays tax on the profit left over after costs have been deducted.
Yet Republic, a group campaigning for a democratic alternative to the monarchy, says the real cost of the Windsors is £334m a year, almost 10 times the official figure, when you take into account such hidden costs as royal visits (paid by local councils) and security (which comes out of the Metropolitan Police’s budget).
In an austere age when executive perks are under scrutiny, some of royal spending can seem a tad extravagant. The press has highlighted Prince Edward’s £46,198 charter flight to Sofia, Bucharest and Ljubljana and the £246,160 Prince Charles spent on a private jet to attend Nelson Mandela’s funeral.
The Queen’s luxury spending is of a different order – she has worn Anello & Davide black patent leather shoes throughout her reign. Although they cost £1,000 a pair, she gets her money’s worth, having them reheeled and repaired. She also has her own private ATM, installed in the basement of Buckingham Palace by her bank Coutts. As she is said to be worth £340m, according to the Sunday Times Rich List, this seems like good value for money for the bank.
Even if Republic’s figures are right, a report by business valuation experts Brand Finance suggests the £334m is a good investment. Once you deduct all the costs, they estimate that the Windsors were worth £1.11billion to the UK economy in 2015. They are a significant, if unquantifiable, draw for foreign tourists.
The Crown Estates generated a surplus of £288m in 2015 while the Royal Warrants, the organisation that supervises royal warrants and the commercial use of the Royal name, chipped in with £144m. It has been suggested that the latter business could be made even more lucrative if, for example, the Windsors earned a royalty on sales of products by the 800 or so businesses that have the Royal Warrant.
Brand Finance’s analysis suggests that the next generation of Windsors is already making an economic impact. The report estimates that the ‘Kate effect’ – “an uplift to fashion and other brands worn, used or otherwise endorsed” by the Duchess of Cambridge was worth £152m last year, which sounds impressive but is less than the £247m generated by sales of souvenirs to mark the birth of Prince George in 2013. The birth of George’s sister, Princes Charlotte, is said to have inspired souvenir sales of £114m in 2015.
None of these statistics will placate the 18% of Britons who, according to You Gov polls, want to replace the monarchy with a democratically elected alternative. They do, however, suggest that as long as the royals are here – and 62% of those asked by YouGov expect Britain to have a monarch 100 years from now – they offer one of the UK’s better returns on investment.