You must have seen the news today that Harry and Meghan’s home, Frogmore Cottage, in Windsor has been renovated at a cost of £2.4m all funded by the taxpayer. Apparently the Duke and Duchess did pay for some fittings – the bath taps etc. The former ‘Suits’ star must be thinking that this Royal family gig is a right proper wheeze. The property, which is actually 5 separate cottages, has been converted into one substantial home. It was given to them by the Queen. Gratis. And now all the cost of the work to knock down and install new walls, replace rotten timbers, roof repairs, a total re-wire, and new electricity, water and gas supply, has been paid for by, well, you and me. And this is on top of the £4m cost it took to create an apartment for them out of offices at their last home in Kensington Palace, also provided her Maj. Clearly that wasn’t good enough for them but let’s hope this place will be, once it’s all finished (we still have to pay for all the external and internal paintwork, garden re-landscaping, new driveways etc of course!)…
Now you could be forgiven for thinking that this is a Royal-bashing posting but it isn’t really. We have a process in place for Royal property refurbishment funding which we kind of all sign up to. The Queen’s Sovereign Grant which is funded by profits from the Crown Estate, amounted to £82m in 2018-19, with £33m set aside overall for maintenance, including major work on Buckingham Palace. The Queen determined that the cost of the Frogmore renovation could come from this budget (with less spent on Buck House this year you assume) and the Treasury agreed. It’s not a bad deal when you consider the Crown Estate provided a record £343.5m to the Treasury in 2018-19, up 4.3% on last year. So fair enough eh?
But what amazes me are the costings for the work. £2.4m sounds like a frigging load of money for the buildings above. As regular readers will know, I’m a big fan of Grand Designs and whilst every bloody project seems to run over budget by a factor of at least 50%, I’ve never seen one renovation that cost anything like £2.4m in building costs alone. And many of the finished homes on GD have been simply stunning and plenty big enough for a young family. If you think about it imagine the sort of house they could have had if they did a new build, although on reflection I’m not sure that would have been permissible under the Sovereign Grants scheme. So a doer-upper makes sense and is a greener option I realise. But the point is, do you think builders come in with ridiculous quotes for a Royal project because they know the public purse budget is so huge? I mean it’s 5 cottages being knocked into one. That’s £0.5m being spent on each little property. I’m not a quantity surveyor but it strikes me as a lot don’t you think? You can just imagine the builder sucking through his teeth as he tells the project manager, ‘Ooh a total re-wire with all them little rooms, very very tricky and my wiring lad’s got a bad back and can only work evenings and week-ends. Couldn’t do it Guv’nor for less than a farmer’s daughter’. That’s £250,000 in lay speak. And here’s the smart bit – whilst her Maj couldn’t give a flying fuck about the quote because she ain’t paying, the Royal family gets to keep the asset. Let’s say the value of the 5 cottages previously, given the location, was £1.5m overall. They’re probably now worth something well in excess of £5m. Yep not a bad wheeze.
Anyway I’m not bitter. In fact I have a suggestion for the Royals. There’s lots of talk about the Sussexes spending time in places like Malta and various African Commonwealth nations like Rwanda, Botswana and Uganda whilst they bring up their young family. Really? I’m not being funny but can you see Meghan, an American soap actress, thrilled at the prospect of spending Saturday nights out in Kigali? And the high-end shopping malls in Gaborone must be just so uber chic. Not really.
I know where the Royals are coming from with these two vibrant young people – they are their international sales force. Let them spend a few weeks in Africa etc doing the Family image stuff. But in terms of spending lots of time abroad, wouldn’t it make more sense for the Family to say to the new head of the UK Government (and don’t we have a delightful prospect of new Premier?), here’s a deal to offer the chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier, ‘Look we may be leaving the EU but we want to stay close friends. Give us a better deal on Brexit and we’ll give you 4 months of the British Royal Family staying in your various countries for the next 5 years’. They’d fucking love it. And the first place to get the Royal couple? – not France nor Germany because to pick either would cause offence to the other. No the perfect place is Italy. A beautiful country, rich in history, fashion, culture, opera, scenery, cuisine and George Clooney has a place on Lake Como. There you go Meghan, how does Milan compare with downtown Kampala?
It makes so much sense. And should they need a little restored farmhouse to park their bones in for a while, then what better place than Casa Pasta Paulie. We’d be honoured to have them as our guests and it’d be so inappropriate to mention the subject of a rental of course. But if the Royals could see fit to cover some necessary renovations costs from that Sovereign Grant, then I’d be happy to strike an amicable arrangement. Half a farmer’s daughter should do it Ma’am.
Buon giorno H&M