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Briefing 'no criticism of Scotland'

The keeper of the Privy Purse has insisted a briefing on royal accounts was "never intended to be a criticism of Scotland" after it was claimed that the Scottish Government could cut its contribution to the British monarchy if plans for further devolution go ahead.

Sir Alan Reid led a briefing yesterday in which it was claimed that the Royal Family could expect an annual cut of between £1 million and £1.5 million if profits from the Crown Estate in Scotland are retained by the Scottish Parliament rather than the UK Parliament in a year's time.

But in a statement today, Sir Alan said the briefing was " never intended to be a criticism of Scotland or of the First Minister or to suggest that the First Minister had cast doubt on the continued funding of the monarchy".

He said: "As we made clear at the briefing, Scotland contributes in many ways to the Treasury's consolidated fund - out of which the Sovereign Grant is paid.

"We said explicitly that to imply Scotland would not pay for the monarchy was simply wrong and we accept unreservedly the assurances of the Scottish Government that the Sovereign Grant will not be cut as a result of devolution of the Crown Estate."

Both the Scottish and UK Governments said they did not expect devolution to have any negative impact on Scotland's contribution to funding the monarchy.

Nicola Sturgeon said the claim had "no basis in fact" and the Scottish Government had "no intention" and "no desire" to cut its contribution.

The First Minister told the BBC: "I can't be any more categoric about this. There has never been and never will be any suggestion that the Scottish Government doesn't continue to meet that contribution in full."

A UK Treasury spokesman said: "Scottish taxpayers will continue to fund a full and fair share of the Sovereign Grant. The grant will not be adversely affected by devolution - under the Sovereign Grant Act it cannot be reduced."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "There would be no change in Scotland's contribution to the Sovereign Grant through general taxation."

A royal aide said yesterday that negotiations were continuing between Westminster and Holyrood over financing, and Scotland would continue to make contributions to the British monarchy, even if the profits from Crown assets were not returned south of the border.

He said: "I think the proposal, although it's not definite yet, is for the transfer of assets from April 1 2016. So the Crown Estate assets under management, in UK terms, would drop at that point."

He said any drop in funding from Scotland would not have any impact on the number of royal engagements in - or the monarchy's relationship with - Scotland, where the Queen spends much of her summer at Balmoral. The Prince of Wales is also in Scotland this week, having arrived by Royal Train.

Royal accounts released yesterday showed that the cost of travel increased by almost £1 million during 2014/15 compared with the previous year but overall Royal Household expenditure remained the same.

The largest travel cost was for an eight-day tour of Mexico and Colombia involving the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, which came to £446,159.

It was one of 63 trips made by royals costing £10,000 or more in the last financial year - up from 47 the previous year - and at a total cost of £5.1 million to the taxpayer compared with £4.2 million a year earlier.

Figures released by Buckingham Palace show the monarchy cost the taxpayer £35.7 million for the second year running - the equivalent of 56p for each person in the country.

Almost half the £35.7 million annual sovereign grant - the system of finance given from the public purse to support the official duties of the monarchy - was spent on payroll costs, while property maintenance dipped from £13.3 million last year to £11.7 million this year - with a surplus of £2.2 million transferred to reserves to help meet the future cost of work on Buckingham Palace.

At the briefing, Sir Alan said: "We've worked hard this year to bear down on costs, to maintain revenue and to ensure that the additional funding in the 2014/15 Sovereign Grant has been placed in reserve.

"Over the coming years, the maintenance of the Estate, and in particular Buckingham Palace, will present a significant financial challenge. We will continue to work closely with the trustees to ensure that the funding for the Royal Household reflects that challenge."

The accounts showed income was £13.3 million - down £100,000 on the previous year - although there were no "big ticket" events during the last 12 months, the Palace said.


From Belfast Telegraph