Prem Sikka, “Prince Charles must go public with tax dealings,” The Conversation, 15 July 2013
The UK House of Commons Public Accounts Committee is examining some of the financial affairs of Prince Charles, heir to the British throne. The Committee should be concerned that the Duchy of Cornwall, Prince’s business arm, is exempt from corporation and capital gains tax. This means that the Duchy does not make any financial contribution towards the social infrastructure used by it. Its tax exemptions also give it unfair advantage over its rivals.
The Duchy of Cornwall is the remnant of a bygone feudal age. The Duchy’s estate was created in 1337 by Edward III for his son and heir, Prince Edward. It provides income for the Duke of Cornwall, always the male heir to the throne. Today, the Duchy’s estate is no longer confined to land in Cornwall. It is a sprawling conglomerate, the third largest landowner in the UK, owning 53,154 hectares of land in 24 counties, mostly in the South West of England.
The Duchy’s 2013 balance sheet shows net assets of £762 million though the market value is likely to be several billions. Its portfolio of assets includes 3,500 individual lettings, including 700 agricultural agreements, 700 residential agreements, and 1,000 commercial agreements. The Duchy owns Dartmoor Prison, the Oval cricket ground in London, a Waitrose warehouse in Milton Keynes, pubs, shops, hotels and building occupied by King’s College London. The Duchy also jointly owns a biomethane injection plant.
The Duchy directly competes with commercial organisations to trade in property, house building, holiday rentals, organic food, jam, marmalades and biscuits. Its profits are boosted by the direct use of social infrastructure funded by taxpayers in the shape of local/central government, transport, security, legal system, and education and healthcare provided to its employees. But the Duchy makes no direct financial contribution towards any of this because it is exempt from the UK corporation and capital gains tax.
The tax privileges of the Duchy are often defended by claims that it is a private estate (is the monarchy private?), or that it is a private trust for the benefit of the Duke of Cornwall, or that somehow the Duchy and the Duke merge into one.
An ongoing freedom of information case has lifted some of the legal murk surrounding the Duchy to reveal its economic substance: it is a legal person in its own right. The evidence provided by Prince Charles’s representatives showed that the Duchy enters into legal contracts in its own name. Its staff are employed by the Duchy rather than the Duke. The Duchy has sued and has been sued in its own name. It is registered for VAT and Pay As You Earn (PAYE). Employees give their consent to the Duchy to process their personal data. The Duchy is notified as the Data Controller under the Data Protection Act 1998. The Duchy has bank accounts in its own name. There have been transactions between the Duchy and Duke, clearly acknowledging that the two are separate. …
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