Resentment over Frogmore funding is because we can't see any benefit
PUBLISHED: 18:16 27 June 2019 | UPDATED: 18:21 27 June 2019
Nick Conrad says our reaction to tax payers footing the revamp bill at Frogmore Cottage is because it's got nothing to do with the general public
The reaction to the public picking up the bill for the renovations of The Duke and Duchess Of Sussex's Frogmore Cottage has been overwhelmingly negative. The public have concluded that the money needed should have solely been sourced from the couple's considerable personal wealth. I sympathise. Demands on the public purse are considerable. The debate over the merit of arguments surrounding this story have been exhausted; however, I wonder if many of us really know how extensive the 'public building portfolio' really is? Across the country a number of stunning stately homes, parks and countryside are owned and maintained by local authorities. In effect we are all Lords of The Manor somewhere. Often these acquisitions are controversial, however I support them as long as the estate is maintained for public use, ensuring locals have a green space for recreation. Surely as a rule of thumb…if the taxpayer is footing the bill then we should also be able to gain access to the property or at least benefit from it?
In the 1960s and 1970s many grand country homes, along with swathes of land was offered for sale. The landed gentry, who had enjoyed hundreds of years cultivating their own private corner of our green and pleasant land, faced the 'ghastly' prospect of losing their rural idyll. The vast costs associated with maintaining and updating these concerns had rendered many palatial mansions unviable. 'For Sale' boards were thrown up left right and centre and for the first time in centuries families lost their seat.
Thanks to the National Trust, English Heritage and Councils up and down the country that stepped in to take responsibility, the ownership changed from the privileged few to the masses. In doing so the great class curtain was lifted giving commoners like you and me the chance to sample how the other half live. Better still, it gave us a share in the future of these magnificent and very important parts of our collective social history.
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I've just finished working alongside one UK council who are doing really exciting things at one such home. The EDP is not a place for me to push my outside business interest, however the diversity of this Dorset-based country house is fantastic. Country walks, cycling paths, education activities and events, park run, restaurants and cafes can all be found on the estate. Thousands of locals descend on the stunning parkland every day. Local people gush with intoxicating pride about 'their' park. Such overtures of positivity progress into volunteering and conservation, meaning nature also wins. As the city where the estate is sited grows, the park uses money set aside by developers to acquire more land for public use. Next year I take another such park in Somerset into my portfolio and again I really appreciate the fact that the income I generate for the park is reinvested in the local population, the council and environmental projects. What's not to like!
In conclusion any aversion I feel towards the renovation of Frogmore Cottage is not harboured in animosity or jealously towards the Royal couple. It's simply that I don't think you can ask the public to fund a project where it's questionable if they will see any benefit or return on the money pumped in. The Royal residences in London do deserve state benefit. They are used for public functions, they need to keep our sovereign and her family safe, and are hugely important to the national tourist offering.
The younger Royals want to cast themselves as socially aware and in tune with modern Britain. Stumping up the cash for the renovation would be more in line with the image they wish to portray. That's unless Harry and Meghan are ready to offer something back to the people of Windsor by swinging open the gate each day for the public to peruse through their gardens.
I respect the Royal family, especially our amazing hard-working monarch. But as we move into a new decade, change is on the way. The public have no appetite for our Treasury to be burdened with the lavish life of the upper classes, unless we can see the direct benefit. The Royal Household is committed to ensuring that public money is spent as wisely and efficiently as possible, and to making Royal finances as transparent and comprehensible as possible. The Sovereign Grant is a progressive step while promoting scrutiny in our Head of State's finances. For the rather unfortunately and unkindly named 'hangers-on' there are smaller sums up for grabs.
I'd suggest the £2.4 million might have been better spent on some of our accessible parks and estates, which are already in the public portfolio and need funds to safeguard their future. If not, I think we might all have the right, by default, to rock up to the Sussex's for a cup of tea. After all, they might have bought the chairs but we helped pay for the bricks and mortar.