Britain’s royal family is an affordable indulgence

April 28, 2011

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

By Robert Cole

Britain’s royal family is an affordable indulgence. If taxpayers stopped funding the clan destined to be led by William Windsor and Catherine Middleton, they would escape a 1.14 billion pound liability. For some, this is a burden the cash-strapped state could do without. In fact, it is a national treasure.

True, the royal wedding will lead to some chunky one-off costs. First, there is the extra public holiday. Assuming UK GDP is evenly spread across the 260 working days of a normal year, that’s 5.9 billion pounds in lost output. The direct cost of the celebration — comprising everything from couture to security — may add another 50 million pounds.

Both these figures look too high, however. Some of the costs are sunk and others are shared. Much of the lost GDP will be recovered. The financial focus should instead be on the ongoing overhead the monarchy creates for the UK state.

The latest report of the Royal Trustees shows that the Queen and her entourage were awarded 39.9 million pounds in the year to March 2011. This figure has been quite stable, rising by just 1.6 percent a year over the past decade.

Assume these payments stretch into perpetuity (ignoring inflation), apply a discount equivalent to the yield on 10-year UK government bonds, and the present value of this liability is 1.14 billion pounds. Put another way, that’s less than 19 pounds for every British citizen.

With national debt at 1.1 trillion pounds and all manner of public services now being squeezed, cutting off the royals would represent a small symbolic saving. But the UK economy would miss the tourism and other income generated from the Windsor brand. Besides, another head of state would still cost money. Even elected ones do not come free with afternoon tea.

The British royal family is an anachronism that would not be invented if it did not exist. But for the global entertainment value alone — regardless of whether the Windsors appreciate that people are laughing at them as well as with them — the monarchy earns its place in the national portfolio. Pageantry as represented in apogee by this royal wedding should be preserved, paid for from a controlled budget, and enjoyed.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

I’m surprised to see no comments on this so far. If I were a Brit, I would be exasperated with not only the cost (which is an absolutely non-essential bit of spending – these things add up you know) but also of the notion of a landed aristocracy that enjoys power, wealth, and position only by accident of birth or sometimes marriage. I find the history of European monarchies interesting and entertaing in an accademic sort of way, but I would cringe at having to maintain one that cost even a penny of my hard-earned income.

Posted by John-B | Report as abusive

Not that there aren’t better things to comment on, but the authors argument is specious. I once thought as the Author did when I lived in London for a time and watched the procession for the State Opening of parliament. It was splendid to watch an ancient tradition being acting out “live”. A friend and I even ran ahead of the carriage to see it pass three times. After the ceremony, we were stopped in the yard of the Admiralty with other people who were also being stopped and interviewed, and asked by a TV reporter what we thought about the ceremony and the institution of the monarchy. I think we both said we were impressed and a few other things and the subject of Nixon came up. I mentioned that Nixon was trying to make White House ceremonies more regal but that I warmed to the idea that patriotic sentiments could be lodged in the Monarchy and the government could take all the abuse it deserves.

The Royal family has no real job except as a figurehead institution. They are all “institutionalized” and seem to have to live with more control over their actions and words than people who really are living in institutions of one kind or other.

There are probably still some old timers who see the Queen as the model family and the voice of propriety. But Dianna more or less killed the aura and any credibility as a first family that may have surrounded them.

The Queen may still be considered the official head of the Church of England but she really can’t say anything not approved by her superiors. She can say nothing that hasn’t been scripted for her and approved by the authorities above her on any subject. Neither can most of her family. Charles couldn’t utter an opinion about Architecture without getting the modernists in a huff. That controversy as so pointless it verged on stupidity. The Man lives in 18th century house. He likes them. Big deal. So many people in London live in buildings dating from the 18th and 19th century that all the controversy displayed was the insecurity of the modernists.

I think the only thing that keeps the institution of the monarchy alive at all in Britain is the snob appeal. There would be no such things as honorary titles of Nobility without a King or Queen to grant them. She is an ornament to flatter the power elite of Britain.

After the death of Dianna, Parliament added three new laws to those they consider their constitution. The number of people allowed incomes from the Civil List was reduced. Another reduced the number of those eligible to sit in the House of Lords. I can’t recall what the other said but the gist of it all is that Dianna caused a small revolution and did a lot of damage to the standing of the Royal family.

I use to think that someone has to live in all those magnificent homes except that the Royal family’s occupancy is no guarantee of the welfare of the buildings. Because “Grace and Favor” apartments are granted to those old pensioners with high ranking jobs or titles, a fire that started in the apartment of the widow of high ranking military officer destroyed several of the state rooms at Hampton Court (It’s been a long time and I can’t remember which palace precisely) and another occurred at Windsor that destroyed the State Dining room.

The Palaces of Ludwig II in Bavaria are some of the biggest revenue producers for the German Cultural heritage system and there isn’t a Royal bone in any of them. The Queens presence in any of the Queens Palaces and the mansions and small palaces of the family actually hinders access to them.

If they are national role models, what are they models of? She may as well be an automaton in state robes that would be more easily programmable. The state could unplug it and put it back in it’s closet for a fraction of the cost.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

Even if there is a cost to the monarchy, perhaps the argument about economic spin offs has validity. As a Canadian taxpayer I always question why my tax dollars should pay for the visit of a member of the royal family.

Perhaps I need to rethink it in terms of the economic activity generated as a result of the visit. It would be interesting to see if the benefits outweigh the costs.

Posted by fromyk | Report as abusive

[…] get rid of the royal family and did a different head of state instead then?…le- indulgence/ Decent read, recent too. The Royal family bring in a shed load through tourism, they do a hell of […]

Posted by Royal Wedding thread – Page 5 | Report as abusive

The estimated cost of 5.9 billion (much used by the Royal Family’s detractors) is completely spurious. Simply to divide Britain’s GDP by the 260 ‘working’ days of the year is hopelessly inaccurate, assuming as it does that no-one at all worked on the bank holiday (Really? What about all those BBC reporters? I don’t recall all the shops being closed, either), and that the entire economy disappears at weekends. It’s a well-known fact we all work 9-5 Mondays to Fridays, and no-one shops on a Saturday…

Meanwhile, if we’re obsessing about the cost to the nation, what about the equivalent sum lost in celebrating International Workers’ Day in 3 days’ time? No, the truth is simply that some opinionators dislike the royal family – and they’ve a right to their opinion – and they’ll seize upon any statistic to back up their views. Mr Cole’s article is fair, and balanced. Take a look at some of the other things the taxpayer funds, and see if they stand up to the same scrutiny.

Posted by RobinSomes | Report as abusive

Reading about the nonsense of monarchies, I found this really good article (the last paragraph really makes sense to me): -english-as-queen.html

Posted by ClaraD | Report as abusive