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How to pay for the Royal wedding? Simple: public subscription

25 November 2010

Now that we have a date in the diary, we can begin the traditional rites and customs on
the path to the Royal Wedding. These traditions stretch back to Queen Victoria – street parties, pageants, commemorative china, bunting and flags, and an almighty row about how much
it’s all costing.

The cost of the monarchy is a perpetual controversy, given new impetus by any major monarchical occasion. Already, David Cameron’s decree that the date will be a public holiday is causing
disquiet among some business leaders, who will lose a day’s trade. As Guido Fawkes points out, the additional day-off, coupled with Good Friday and Easter Monday, will make for a miserable
year-end for many businesses. The CBI estimates that each additional bank holiday costs the UK economy £6 billion, although that doesn’t account for the extra trade for off-licences,
and the added sales for manufacturers of paper hats, fireworks and big-screen televisions.

There has been an argument about the monarchy’s bill since its inception. On the one hand, those (not all republicans by any means) who say it costs too much; on the other, those that point
to the additional revenues generated by tourism, which supposedly outweigh the Royals’ direct costs. Much of the argument is clouded by misunderstanding. The civil list, most of which pays
for the royal household, is just one of six sources of income for the monarchy, as identified by Vernon Bognador. The other five are grants-in-aid (for the upkeep of buildings), the privy purse (to
pay personal costs), direct expenditure by government departments, income from visitors to royal palaces, and the monarch’s personal investment income. This latter figure is confidential, as
it would be for any other individual, but it is a safe bet to say it’s not peanuts.


At the time of the Glorious Revolution, parliament struck a deal to provide state funding for the upkeep of the monarchy. This became the first Civil List in 1697, and has been renewed for every
monarch. A significant settlement took place in 1760 when Parliament seized control of revenues from the Crown Lands (excluding the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall), in return for a guaranteed
civil list. This is now the Crown Estate, with a portfolio worth £6.6 billion, and profits this year of £210.7 million. It includes great tracts of agricultural land, Windsor Great
Park, St James’s, parts of the West End, and just over half of Britain’s shoreline. There are some, the Prince of Wales for example, who argue that the Royal Family has done rather
badly out of the deal struck in 1760. The value of the land is worth vastly more than the paltry amounts doled out by the politicians. The Prince argues that if the taxpayer object to funding the
monarchy, the solution is simple: reverse the 1760 settlement. The argument, though reasonable, makes no financial sense. Britain would lose billions in tax revenue from the Crown Estate. As for
the Royal Family seizing Regent Street, Pall Mall, a retail park in Slough, Chester Castle, Plymouth Hoe, part of Bluewater and swathes of farms, forests and beaches, it would in effect represent a
new Norman Conquest.

So who should pay for the monarchy? Even the most blood-thirsty republicans, Roy Hattersley say, must accept that the Royals have remarkable sticking power. To understand their longevity, you have
to understand that the only true royal tradition is re-invention. From the Conquest, through the Civil Wars, the rise of party politics, to the age of Hello! the monarchy has prospered. It has
survived everything from Oliver Cromwell to Jennie Bond.  With Prince William and Kate Middleton, we are witnessing a new phase of re-invention, which guarantees the monarchy a renewed lease
of life. It’s a bit like Dr Who. Given that they’ll be with us for the foreseeable future, a new funding method is required. In the 1970s, Labour MP Douglas Houghton suggested turning
the royal household into a government department, with proper parliamentary scrutiny. Proper scrutiny is needed, but not at the cost of turning royal flunkies into civil servants.

Instead, we might look at the German church tax as a model. Article 137 of the Weimar Constitution of 1919 and article 140 of the German Basic Law of 1949 provide for supporters of the church to
raise and collect a tax to pay for the institutions and wages. If you don’t belong to the church, you are exempt. Most British taxpayers are monarchists; some are not. A voluntary tax,
hypothecated for the monarchy, would be paid by most of Britain’s 30 million-plus income tax payers. If each paid an annual contribution of £5, the grant to the monarchy would be over
£150 million. Those libertarians, revolutionaries, republicans and liberal democrats who complain about ‘their’ taxes being spent on palaces and princes would be silenced.

And what about one-off spectaculars such as the Windsor-Middleton nuptials? Look around London, or most other cities, to see the answer: public subscription. The Victorians built their libraries,
museums and statues with funds raised voluntarily, either in return for a jolly good day out in the case of the Great Exhibition, or as a result of a public appeal. Taxpayers then (even Queen
Victoria, who paid her taxes unlike some of her descendents) didn’t enter into it. Millions will enjoy the royal wedding – let them pay for it through a public subscription. The
traditional pre-wedding anxiety about paying the bill would be avoided.

Paul Richards is a former special adviser to Hazel Blears

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  • Simon

    The CBI says a bank holiday for the royal wedding is appropriate. Channel4s Factcheck the other day also found the CBIS claim of up to 6 billion was on the very high side.

    At the end of the day the royal wedding will raise far more than it costs. None of these estimates on tourism take into account just how much it would have cost for the government to advertise to most of the world in the way free news media coverage has been doing and will do on the wedding day.

    The wedding will be a great chance for most of the nation to celebrate as republicans run around moaning how unhappy they are

  • lloydj

    The cost of protecting one HAPPY couple for a day, or the cost of protecting the VILE couple (the Bulger murderers) for all of their years. I know which I would rather pay my taxes for.

  • Mark

    The royal family is paying for the wedding. The government is paying for security, as they would for any high profile couple who needed protection, as it is the governments job.

    Futhermore the royal wedding is expected to give the UK economy 1 billion dollars

  • St Bruno

    The utter odious thought of funding the coming ‘Royal Wedding’ from income-taxes or subscriptions fills me with feather spitting rage!

    I suppose it fits in with the ‘bread and circuses’ mentality of the ruling classes view of the needs of the peasantry who don’t need benefit but give them cake and charity and they can celebrate the marriage of the idol rich.

    If the happy couple live in Wales let them get married by bans in some cold black, slate grey, damp dark Chapel in Corris or were ever they habit and let the bride’s father foot the bill as is right and proper.

  • Ron Todd

    I know how much I would contribute towards the cost of the wedding of a billionaires son.

    As for a present since he will inherit Cornwall what about those that give a damn about the royals chipping in to buy him Devon.

  • Roger Davies

    Charge all of the TV companies (BBC included) for the right to broadcast, say £10m each, then offer Coca Cola or some Australian beer company the exclusive promo rights for another £10m or so. Mop up the rest of the expenditure with a direct charge on all those using the Royal Sweetness’s images on products. Get real this is a very good opportunity to make some money. Dave needs to appoint a Royal Wedding Business Czar, may Lord Sweetness has some spare time on his hands?

  • Frank P

    A former special advisor to Hazel Blears, FFS!! Oh Dearie me. Bwaaahahahahahaha!

  • James

    Would be like turning a royal wedding into a cricketer’s benefit year. The metaphorical begging bowl being passed around the nation.

    I don’t really want the libertarians, revolutionaries, republicans and liberal democrats to free-ride off the financial benefits that accrue from having a monarchy.

  • Robert Eve

    Public subscription is Income Tax is it not?

  • Barry Bilge

    “The CBI estimates that each additional bank holiday costs the UK economy £6 billion”

    Abolish them and we’ll be out of penury in no time! To do it even quicker call them ‘Labour’s debts days’ and pinch all (instead of merely about half) our income raised on those days.

    Note to Dave, George & Co: This is not entirely a serious suggestion.

  • whatawaste

    When I lived in Brazil the wedding of Prince Andrew to Fergie was carried live on Brazilian TV and was a significant item on all news bulletins before and after the event. For many countries the pageantry and pomp are a must see occasion.

    I know in some circles it will appear tasteless and tactless but surely selling the TV rights could go a long way to offset the policing and security costs. I believe the worldwide demand exists or will the British TV companies “cream” off the profits?

  • HJ

    The public subscription idea for the royal wedding sounds rather impractical.

    For a start, there isn’t a lot of time to organise it.

    Secondly, with Victorian public subscriptions, the exact timescale couldn’t be agreed until the subscription had raised much of the cash and there was visibility of raising the rest. The subscription was also usually for a facility which would provide lasting public utility. In the case of the royal wedding, are you saying that it might not go ahead or might be postponed if enough wasn’t raised (and quickly enough)? If people though tthe wedding would happen anyway, and certainly once it had happened, what would be the incentive to subscribe?

  • The Brideshead Recidivist

    Oh. I thought HM The Queen and HRH The Prince of Wales were paying out of their own pocket (as I believe happened in 1981 and 1947). So a public subscription would be unnecessary.

    Except for wedding presents or honeymoon spending money, I suppose.

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