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The true value of the royals

11th May 2012

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Sixty years is a long time. Incredible as it may be though, next month sees the Queen's Diamond Jubilee make a mockery of our working week, and our public transport system, as hundreds of thousands of British citizens (and tourists) flock to the streets of Blighty to take part in the celebrations.

As with the Royal Wedding last year, these big royal events always bring a centuries old debate back to the forefront of public discourse: does Britain really need a monarchy? Combine the upcoming Diamond Jubilee with the double-dip recession which is presently plaguing the British economy, and it is no surprise that many republicans wonder why on earth we are funding the royal family with public money.

Yet, when the costs of the royal institution are broken down, the burden on the public purse is, and it may come as a shock, a rather small one. According to the Royal Public Finances, for the 2010/2011 financial year, the Queen and her cohort cost the British taxpayer £32.1million. Given the climate of austerity we are all enjoying, this may seem like a slight absurd amount, yet it is a 19% reduction (in real terms) compared to 2001. Even the Queen cannot abscond from the budget cuts it would seem.

Yet, angry republicans will shout, “the Queen pays no tax!” Contrary to popular belief, this is not entirely accurate. Rather, income from the Duchy of Lancaster acts as the Queen's private income (contributing towards her personal costs, such as travel and living expenditure), and tax is paid on it. Therefore, the Queen does pay tax. “Oh! But what of the artwork which the public pay for to be maintained?” the republicans will next ask. The Royal Collection, held in trust by the Queen and consisting of numerous works of art, is almost exclusively paid for by visitor spending, and remains large unfunded by either the government, or the National Lottery Foundation.

Now that some of these misconceptions have been rectified, what of the benefits of the royal family?

If you ask any monarchist, including oneself (it is only appropriate that 'one' is used in this context), the cost of the royal family is easily outweighed by the tourist income that it generates. A study in 2010, carried out by VisitBritain, puts the figure at “well over £500 million a year from overseas tourists.” Connect this with the estimated 100,000 jobs that this tourist spending generates and it would be a safe bet to say that the monarchy generates nearly ten times what it costs.

Oh but, one hears you complaining, the monarchy is merely an outdated social institution which has not kept up with modern times. Unfortunately, so are a number of public institutions: one only has to direct your attention to the House of Lords, or the Church of England (albeit all interconnecting bodies). The Queen may not hold up to the latest fashion trends, or be able to spot the cast of TOWIE on a drunken night out, yet what it offers is stability. Throughout the ups and downs of war, economic recession, and great scandal, it is always comforting to hear a reassuring grandmotherly voice on the radio, telling us – her faithful subjects – to keep calm and carry on. Yet the Queen can hardly be viewed as an uptight woman, let us not forget the 'public hug' between Her Majesty and Michelle Obama at this year's G20 reception at Buckingham Palace. The Queen may struggle to present herself as 'modern' and 'progressive', yet the younger royals, namely Prince William and Harry, have had no such trouble.

While on the topic of Prince William, the Royal Wedding last year attracted 34 million viewers here in the UK, and nearly 23 million viewers in the US. The royal institution is hardly out of date when, if the New York Times estimate is to be believed, 3 billion people across the globe tuned in to watch the happy union of Wills and Kate Middleton. Although it is doubtful that 1 in 2 people sat glued to their television screens to watch the wedding, yet if even a few hundred million tuned in, it shows a huge attraction towards the monarchy still exists.

This argument is hardly concrete; there are numerous benefits and criticisms which have not been mentioned. Yet if taken at monetary value (which according to the Coalition Government is the only true value these days), the monarchy costs, on average, each British taxpayer 62 pence a year. That is remarkable value for money.

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