The Queen was dealt a winning hand when the monarchy’s funding was overhauled in 2011. Pegging the monarch’s income to her commercial property profits has so far proved as generous as former prime minister David Cameron predicted. That may not be the case in future. On Friday the Crown Estate said its profits would be badly hit by coronavirus.
The Crown Estate comprises land and property owned by the monarch for the duration of their reign. With three-fifths of its property in Central London and multiple retail parks, its portfolio is vulnerable to the pandemic. Only a few weeks of its ravages are reflected in the 1.2 per cent decline to £13.4bn in the year to March 31.
There is worse to come. The Crown Estate, to its credit, has been quick off the mark in helping struggling retail tenants by linking rents to turnover. That should help retailers and restaurants stay in business. But as the property owner takes on more of the risk, yields will rise and valuations fall. Rent collection is also down, forcing it to delay paying part of last year’s profits to the Treasury to ensure it can cover its costs.
All profits are normally returned to the Treasury, which then pays a quarter of them back to cover costs such as maintaining a crumbling Buckingham Palace. While the grant is guaranteed not to fall in cash terms, the formula was intended to ensure that the royals broadly do as well as the economy does.
There are bright spots in the Crown Estate’s portfolio, particularly the offshore wind farms on the seabed it owns. Moreover it has no debt, so will not be forced to make disposals at the bottom of the market, like some commercial rivals. Appropriately, for a portfolio that dates back to the time of William the Conqueror, it can take a long view. The property market is inherently cyclical. In time, linking payout to profits will be a royal flush once more.
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