Public Accounts CommitteeWritten evidence from The Duchy of Cornwall

Origins

The Duchy of Cornwall estate was created in 1337 by Edward III for his son and heir, Prince Edward (later known as The Black Prince) who became the first Duke of Cornwall. The Duchy’s primary function is to provide an income from its assets for the present and future Dukes of Cornwall.

For many centuries it was traditional for families with landed estates to settle the land and other assets in trust, so that each generation could live off the income but were unable to dispose of the assets. This was done to ensure that the estate, and the income which it provided, survived from generation to generation. The same principle was applied to the Duchy of Cornwall as a private estate. It is one of two broadly similar private Royal estates of this kind, the other being the Duchy of Lancaster, which belongs to Her Majesty The Queen in Her capacity as Sovereign.

The Estate

The Duchy estate consists of around 53,100 hectares of land in 23 counties, mostly in the South West of England. The principal activity of the Duchy is the sustainable and commercial management of its land and properties, to generate income for The Duke, and future Dukes, and for the wider benefit of tenants, local communities and for the environment.

The agricultural estate consists of arable and livestock farms including some smallholdings. The Duchy estate also promotes high-quality residential and commercial building programmes where its land is designated for development by local authorities. Where possible it converts its redundant farm buildings to work places in order to encourage small businesses within the countryside.

Conservation is particularly important and the Duchy encourages its farming tenants to pursue practical conservation measures alongside commercial farming. The estate invests considerably in environmental projects, and The Duke has made the organic Duchy Home Farm at Highgrove an example for others to follow.

Title

The two titles, Prince of Wales and Duke of Cornwall, are held by the same individual but are nevertheless distinct. This is reflected nowadays in the two separate organisations of The Prince of Wales’s Office and the Duchy of Cornwall office which work together to support the heir to the throne. The title Prince of Wales is the older of the two titles and is conferred as a personal creation by the Sovereign, unlike the title of Duke of Cornwall, which is hereditary and is either inherited at birth or on the accession of a new monarch to the throne, when his or her eldest son becomes Duke. The current Prince of Wales is the 24th Duke of Cornwall and the longest serving.

Governance

Dukes of Cornwall have traditionally managed their own private estates. The current Duke is actively involved in running the Duchy and his philosophy is to improve the estate and pass it on to his son and to future Dukes in a stronger and better condition, than when he inherited it.

The Prince of Wales himself takes a long-term stewardship approach and has proved that environmental and agricultural best practices are compatible with a sound financial return. For example, The Prince has helped to increase the Duchy’s capital value—to which he has no access -by 87% in the last ten years.

The Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall (Accounts) Act 1838 give the Treasury responsibility to ensure that actions taken by any Duke when managing the Duchy cannot compromise the long-term value of the estate. This is different from the Treasury’s role in managing the economy because the Duchy estate does not work with public money. The Duchy’s annual accounts are laid before the House of Commons and the House of Lords so that Parliament can be satisfied that the Treasury is fulfilling its statutory responsibilities.

The “board” of the Duchy is The Prince’s Council, which is chaired by HRH The Prince of Wales. It meets twice a year. The “chief executive” is The Secretary and Keeper of the Records. With the exception of the Secretary and Keeper of the Records, The Prince’s Council is a non-executive body which provides advice to His Royal Highness with regard to the management of the Duchy.

The annual accounts are audited by independent external auditors. The position of auditor is a personal appointment. The accounts are not audited by the National Audit Office because it is a private estate and is not publicly funded. The auditor’s report to the Duke can be read as part of each year’s accounts.

The requirements for the management of the Duchy are set out within its Charters and various Acts of Parliament.

The Secretary and Keeper of the Records, Alastair Martin.

The Receiver General, James Leigh-Pemberton.

The Lord Warden of the Stannaries, Sir Nicholas Bacon.

The Attorney-General to His Royal Highness, Jonathan Crow QC.

In addition, individuals with expertise in various areas of business in which the Duchy operates, including agriculture, commercial property and estate management, are appointed to The Prince’s Council to provide advice with regard to the management of the Duchy.

Underpinning the Council are Committees: the Executive Committee, the Finance and Audit Committee, the Rural Committee, the Commercial Property and Development Committee, and the Remuneration Committee.

Expenditure

The Prince of Wales became the 24th Duke of Cornwall on The Queen’s accession to the throne, in 1952. When he was 21, in 1969, he became entitled to the full income of the Duchy and took over its management. Under the 1337 charter, and as supplemented by subsequent legislation, The Prince of Wales is not entitled to the proceeds or profit on the sale of Duchy assets, and only receives the annual income which they generate, on which he voluntarily pays income tax.

Once the income has passed to HRH, the Duchy office has no further oversight and the money is private. However, unlike any other private individual, HRH does publish annual accounts which are made publicly available. From these it can be seen that HRH chooses to use a large proportion of the income from the Duchy estate to meet the cost of his public and charitable work. Revenue from the Duchy estate also funds the vast majority of the official activities of HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, TRH The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and HRH Prince Harry.

Duchy Offices and Staff

The headquarters of the Duchy estate is at 10 Buckingham Gate, London. The Rural Portfolio is managed in three geographical districts from offices on St. Mary’s in the Isles of Scilly; in Liskeard, Cornwall; and in Newton St. Loe near Bath. There are satellite offices in Princetown on Dartmoor, at Dewsall near Hereford, and at Poundbury. The Duchy employs 103 people (full time equivalent). These include Chartered Surveyors, Chartered Building Surveyors, Accountants, a Forester, office support staff, a Harbour Master and quay workers, and the Nursery Manager and team.

Financial Review

Over the last ten years, in line with The Prince of Wales’s stated intention to pass the estate on to his successors in a better condition, both the Duchy capital and revenue have increased. The revenue surplus has risen from just under £10 million to £19 million. This has been achieved by disposing of poorer quality assets and investing in higher quality assets. The capital account has also performed strongly over the same period, growing from £408 million to £763 million as at March 2013. During this same period £85 million has been reinvested into estate improvements.

Table 1

FINANCIAL COMPARISON AS AT MARCH 2004 AND MARCH 2013

(since the last accounts examined by the Public Accounts Committee in February 2005)

Category

2004

2013

£million

£million

Revenue surplus

11.90

19.00

Net assets

463.00

763.00

Value of properties

428.00

739.00

Value of financial investments

47.60

106.00

Borrowings

10.00

80.00

Rental income

16.60

24.70

Financial investment income

2.20

4.20

Interest payable

1.08

3.18

Hectares

Hectares

Duchy land holdings

56,200

53,100

The principal land development over this time has been at Poundbury in Dorset. This development was planned in response to the local authority, West Dorset District Council (WDDC), concluding that more housing was needed in Dorchester. WDDC approached the Duchy to ask whether it would release land for development. The development commenced in 1993 and to date 900 houses have been built. The additional benefits to the local community include 35% affordable housing, spending by residents, construction work, employment in new businesses, and Section 106 payments of which the Duchy has paid over £3.7 million to WDDC. There are now 2,200 residents, with 1,600 people working in 140 businesses based at Poundbury.

Borrowings are currently around 10% of the net capital asset value. During the last 2 years low interest rates have enabled the Duchy to increase its borrowings and invest in high quality assets. At 31 March 2013, the weighting in financial investments were higher than normal, so as to maintain liquidity for major future capital projects within the estate.

Taxation

Notwithstanding that the Duchy is exempt from taxation, for the last twenty years both The Queen and The Prince of Wales have voluntarily paid tax at the normal rate on the incomes from the two Duchies, and prior to that The Prince of Wales made a contribution in lieu of tax for many years.

The Prince of Wales chooses to devote the majority of his income from the Duchy of Cornwall to meeting the costs of his public and charitable duties, as well as those of his immediate family. The remainder is used to meet his personal expenditure. He pays tax fully on any income not used to meet official expenses. The Prince of Wales pays income tax in the normal way at the appropriate marginal rates on the income generated from the Duchy; in 2012–13, this was at 50%. He paid £4.4 million of tax on his income from the Duchy of Cornwall (which includes an element of VAT).

Regardless of any tax exemptions, the Duchy is not a corporation and therefore would not be subject to corporation tax. His Royal Highness is not entitled to benefit from the capital gains realised by the Duchy, nor can they be distributed: by law, they must be reinvested for the benefit of the Crown and future Dukes of Cornwall. His Royal Highness is subject to CGT in the usual way on his own assets.

Perhaps uniquely, he chooses to publish a figure for his personal tax payment in his annual review: www.princeofwales.gov.uk/onlinereview2013.

“… my abiding aim lies in trying to make sure that my stewardship of the Duchy will enable my son to take on something of which he can be proud. The happiest thought I have is that he will one day be working with the sons or grandsons of those tenants whom I have had the pleasure and privilege of knowing.”

HRH The Prince of Wales Duke of Cornwall, 1993

Further information is available in the annual accounts which are available at:
http://www.duchyofcornwall.org/managementandfinances_finances_accounts.htm

Prepared 4th November 2013