Last week in an initiative which has escaped the notice of the mainstream press the UK Chancellor George Osborne tabled a Sovereign Grant Bill proposing a new and simpler method of financing the Monarch’s £40m annual budget as head of state.
The Bill proposes rationalising the streams of expenditure currently provided by the Civil List and by departmental budgets for transport and for culture – the latter mainly for the upkeep of the Royal Palaces – into a single Sovereign Grant. So far so straightforward.
But the Bill also proposes to link the size of the Sovereign Grant to 15% of the profits of the Crown Estate. This does not signal any change in the status of the Crown Estate or its assets.
The assets will continue to be public assets and the revenues they generate will continue to be paid direct to the Treasury.
As Andy Wightman comments in his blog Land Matters revealing the Chancellor’s initiative, the link is purely “formulaic. The formula might just as easily be tied to the profits of the Stilton cheese industry”.
A clue to the Government’s motives is provided by another part of the Chancellor’s statement, which the Chancellor describes as “completely unconnected” to the Sovereign Grant Bill, that the Government intends to submit proposals to ensure that coastal communities benefit from the Crown Estate’s activity in developing marine resources.
Securing benefit for local communities is a strong theme in the argument that the Scottish Government, local authorities and voluntary groups make for the devolution of responsibility for the Scottish functions of the Crown Estate.
The Chancellor’s announcement pre-empts the conclusions of the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee’s inquiry into the Crown Estate and confirms that Westminster is determined to defy the claim for the devolution of control over the Estate.
The Bill is due to be debated in the House of Commons the week after next while the Scottish Parliament is in recess.