Queen's royal trust asks for new bailout as coronavirus hits tourism

Rebecca Taylor
·Royal Correspondent
·4-min read

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The trust that manages the opening of the Queen’s palaces has said it needs to borrow more money after taking a hit on its finances during the pandemic.

The Royal Collection Trust (RCT) manages royal art and jewels as well as the summer opening of Buckingham Palace and the regular openings of Windsor Castle, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, with much of its income coming from tourists.

However, the palaces have had to remain mostly closed since March 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic put Britain into lockdown, severely affecting the trust’s income.

The RCT already confirmed it had taken out a £22m loan in the summer, and asked staff to consider voluntary redundancy, but it has proven to not be enough.

A spokesman said: “Owing to the temporary closure of our sites, Royal Collection Trust’s financial position remains very challenging, and further bank borrowing will be necessary, subject to approval by the Trustees.

“Currently there are no plans for further redundancies.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 08: Queen Elizabeth II looks on during the Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph at The Cenotaph on November 08, 2020 in London, England. Remembrance Sunday services are still able to go ahead despite the covid-19 measures in place across the various nations of the UK. Each country has issued guidelines to ensure the safety of those taking part. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth II at a rare 2020 engagement at the Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

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Prince Charles is chair of the trustees, so he will have to approve the request to borrow more money.

It’s been reported the RCT would look to borrow from Coutts, the Queen’s bankers.

Other trustees include Sir Michael Stevens, keeper of the Privy Purse, who manages the Queen’s finances, and Earl Peel, the Lord Chamberlain, who is head of her staff in Buckingham Palace.

Royal finance expert David McClure told Yahoo UK it was “no wonder” the RCT is having to go “cap in hand” to the banks.

He said: “All of the royal finances are vulnerable to a shock like this COVID crisis, but this is more vulnerable than the Sovereign Grant.

“They are so reliant on tourists, and foreign tourists – people forget the majority of people who come to the palaces are coming from America, Japan, China, and with quarantine because of COVID they have not been able to come since Easter.”

He also pointed out there may be some time before a full recovery is made, with it potentially taking several years before travel returns to pre-pandemic levels.

McClure said the RCT also relies on selling items in its shops for a percentage of its income, which is damaged by the lack of tourists.

WINDSOR, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 23: Royal Collection Trust Curator Caroline de Guitut views HRH Princess Beatrice of York's wedding dress on display at Windsor Castle on September 23, 2020 in Windsor, England. Princess Beatrice and Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi married on July 18, 2020 in Windsor. The wedding dress, first worn by Her Majesty The Queen in the 1960s, will go on public display at Windsor Castle from Thursday, 24 September 2020. (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage)
Princess Beatrice of York's wedding dress went on display at Windsor Castle in September, in an exhibition managed by the Royal Collection Trust. (Karwai Tang/WireImage)

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The RCT was established in 1987 and operates as a “halfway house”, McClure said, with a charitable arm that does not have to pay tax as well as a trading body.

The trust looks after the royal collection on behalf of the Queen and the nation and ensures that as much of it as possible can be seen through gallery openings and events.

It is part of the Royal Household but does not get any public funding. However, there remains some lack of clarity over which parts of the collection are the Queen’s private possessions and what belongs to the crown.

The full value of the collection isn’t known either.

The RCT does have some money in reserve. Its annual report for 2019-20, when the trust was not profoundly impacted by the pandemic, shows a total income of £71.5m and a surplus of £3.5m. Its reserves were £8.4m at the time.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 28:  A member of the Royal Collection Trust staff poses with the "HM The Queen 1972-73" by Michael Noakes to promote an exhibition to celebrate Prince Charles' 70th birthday and the Summer opening of Buckingham Palace, at Buckingham Palace on March 28, 2018 in London, England.  Specially selected by the Prince of Wales, the exhibition includes works of art from the Royal Collection and pieces by young artists who have benefited from three of his charities. Buckingham Palace opens to the public from 21 July to 30 September.  (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
HM The Queen 1972-73 by Michael Noakes in an exhibition to celebrate Prince Charles' 70th birthday and the summer opening of Buckingham Palace, by the Royal Collection in 2018. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

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McClure added: “There’s no reason why it had to be set up like a halfway house, it could have been set up like a department of royal trusts, and work in the ministry of arts and the money could have gone to the taxpayer.

“They do have savings but you would think their business model might be in need of recalibrating due to the shock of COVID.”

It’s not yet clear when the palaces could reopen to tourists, but even with British tourists allowed back, there will be some impact from social distancing and the lack of foreign visitors.

The Queen has cancelled her annual summer garden parties for the second year in a row, but as these don’t generate income the decision is linked to the organisation of the events, not any income.

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