More questions for Crown Estate over Scottish property dealings

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by a Newsnet reporter

The Crown Estate is today facing fresh questions over its management after a report by economists Jim and Margaret Cuthbert into the Estate’s property dealings found that the Crown Estate is involved with offshore property companies and is borrowing money, despite being barred from borrowing under law.  The research by economists Jim and Margaret Cuthbert was highlighted in yesterday’s Herald.

The Crown Estate consists of lands which are in the hereditary possession of the monarch.  The lands include the entire public foreshore and seabed out to three miles offshore.  Under one of those ‘unwritten rules’ of the British Constitution, on accession to the throne the monarch “voluntarily” surrenders the income from these estates to the Treasury in return for a maintenance grant, the Civil List.  

The Crown Estates is managed as a public trust by the Crown Estates Commission, which consists of a board of eight appointed, in theory, by the monarch.  The Commissioners must operate the trust under conditions laid down by the Westminster Parliament, to which it is formally accountable.  

Last year in a scathing report from the House of Commons Treasury Committee the Crown Estate was accused of neglecting its public service remit, having adopted an overly commercial approach to managing its £5bn portfolio.

In the last 10 years, The Crown Estate has generated over £1.8bn for the Consolidated Fund, a general fund that the government uses for public expenditure.  The SNP has called for control of the Scottish revenues from the Crown Estate to be devolved to Holyrood.  

The most recent controversy surrounding the business decisions of the Crown Estates Commission related to a £680 million Joint Venture with Hercules Unit Trust – an offshore company – which owns a series of commercial properties around the UK including Fort Kinnaird in Edinburgh.

SNP MSP, and long time campaigner on the Crown Estate, Dave Thompson said:

“The Crown Estate Commissioners are notoriously secretive about its property investments and now we know why.

“The Crown Estate appears to be using public assets to bankroll property speculation.

“This property deal was such a mess the Crown Estate Commission has had to shore it up with additional cash that could have been invested in our harbours or shores to benefit communities and may well have come from revenues from our seabed.

“There is nothing to state that in future we could not find revenues from a renewable energy revolution off Scotland’s shores bankrolling dodgy property deals with offshore companies.

“This is all the more reason to remove the Crown Estate Commission from the management of valuable community assets like Scotland’s foreshore and ensure 100% of the revenues from Scotland’s shores are used to the benefit of Scotland’s people.”

 

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