MILLIONS of us have already been hit in the pocket by the devastating coronavirus pandemic – and it appears even the Queen is feeling the pinch.
Earlier this week The Sun revealed how the royals had unearthed an £18million black hole in their budget, after the pandemic wiped out the crucial income from the millions of tourists visiting their palaces.
But it's not just the palaces taking a hit – as profits from Charles’s private Duchy of Cornwall will almost certainly be impacted too.
And that in turn could mean bad news for Harry and Meghan who have reportedly lined up a £2million contribution from Charles to pay for their transition to non-royal life.
So how is the palace proposing to plug the gap?
According to the leaked staff email from the head of the household this week, the answer is to batten down the hatches ahead of the financial storm: a staff pay freeze, no new recruitment and a halt on spending on property maintenance.
Already, 400 workers due to be employed at various palaces during the summer opening are thought to have been laid off – and more cuts could follow.
The pandemic has hit the Crown in unprecedented ways. William and Kate have pioneered the 'E-Monarchy' as they're forced to connect to the public online rather than in person.
Meanwhile, there are serious questions about when the Queen will end her lengthy quarantine at Windsor Castle – and whether her long absence will somehow speed up the handover to Prince Charles.
But maybe in these extraordinary times more creative thinking is called for?
Ask the public… at your own risk
One extreme measure would be to ask the taxpayer to make up the shortfall.
Next year, the level of the Sovereign Grant is due to be reassessed. At present it’s set at the equivalent of 25% of the profits of the Crown Estates – so in theory, it could be raised to, say, 30%.
But would the public buy it?
The last time there was a big hike back in November 2016 to pay for the Buck House makeover, there were howls of outrage from the public as it coincided with the period of austerity when we were supposed to be “all in it together” to keep state spending down.
Since we are now facing another lengthy period of belt-tightening to pay for the financial cost of the pandemic, asking for more money again would risk an equally angry furore.
Politically, it surely wouldn’t wash.
Open up the palace doors
In the medium term, the royals could look to boost their income from the reopened palaces.
Last year Buckingham Palace generated more than £16million from admissions and shop sales, while the Royal Collection – which manages the operation and receives the lion’s share of its income – paid just £7million into public coffers.
That amounts to more than 10 per cent of the core royal budget – but over the years some MPs have suggested that the palace should have got more.
Previously, they've also wondered why the palace's opening hours could not extend to the winter as well as summer.
The response was that the set-up costs were too high and that the palace is busy with a multitude of events in the non-summer months.
Follow the Swedish model
Some other critics, though, wanted to go much further and have the palace open to paying visitors all year round.
They point to the example of the royal palace in Stockholm which is open to the public and has become one of the most popular tourist venues in the capital – and in so doing, reduced the cost of the Swedish monarchy.
A perfect opportunity to follow the Swedish model came in 2017 when work began on the £369million taxpayer-funded renovation of Buckingham Palace.
With further forethought, the building might have been reconfigured to allow the public to visit its art treasures throughout the year.
And with a bit more creative thinking still, it could have been turned into London’s answer to the Louvre and Paris-like prices could have been charged to the hordes of tourists.
Queen could up sticks to Windsor
If we are going the whole hog, why not rethink the entire way we use the palaces?
Do we really need to use both Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace as places of work?
If you turned the palace into a year-round museum, then all the official and ceremonial activities could be relocated to Windsor – along with the Queen who would surely enjoy living in more comfort than at noisy Buck House.
By the same logic, one might even question why two costly private residences – Balmoral and Sandringham – are really required.
If the axe fell, it might make sense – and save money – to hand over Balmoral to the nation like a National Trust property and leave Sandringham as the sole private palace.
Slim down the royals
More radical still would be a culling of the number of working royals.
Most European royal houses make do with about a half a dozen, while the British Royal Family currently has around 15 – including the Kents and Gloucesters, who might be the most likely for the chop.
It might be a brave move and run the risk of being sent to the Tower, but the best way to cut costs at the palace is to have a slimmed down monarchy.
David McClure is author of the forthcoming book 'Royal Privilege'
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