Thursday, 14 October 2010

Duchy of Cornwall, time to pay it's own way?

As we all know every ones belts are being tightened in this age of austerity. Cornwall Council has already identified the largest chunk of saving but now wants public input and indeed ideas for the rest of the £10 million short fall in funding from Westminster. These cuts will be severe, lets not make fools of ourselves and imagines that they will not effect front line services.

This situation prompted me to look into the financial transactions between the Duchy of Cornwall and Cornwall Council. The Duchy of Cornwall is a massive landowner in Cornwall, owning among other things in Cornwall the: "Tamar, Looe, Helford and Camel estuaries and coastal foreshore around Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly." (taken from the official Duchy of Cornwall website: http://www.duchyofcornwall.org/aroundthe) So this prompted me to try to investigate the financial dealings between HRH the Duke of Cornwall and Cornwall Council. Now the Duchy is very hard to investigate, it is immune from Freedom of Information requests and not a limited company so nothing to be found through Companies House. Interestingly Duchy of Cornwall accounts are audited and scrutinized by the Treasury. However public institutions dealings with the Duchy are not immune from FOI requests.

So, I filled out a Freedom of Information Request, asking Cornwall Council whether the Duchy paid for upkeep of it's own waterways and whether profits from ports and harbours were given to the Duchy. After a while of asking the answer was:
"The Council does not pay for the upkeep of any Duchy owned
ports/harbours/waterways and no profits are paid to the local authority
owned harbours to the Duchy. There may be some privately owned or Trust
ports which pay the Duchy a rental for the use of their seabed but I do
not know which ones."
That was the official answer and the only one forthcoming, so we shall leave at that. It did however transpire that in terms of beaches there are financial transactions between the Duchy and the council. Parts of the beaches of Porthtowan, Crantock, Trevone and Porthcothnan (perhaps others) are leased by the council from the Duchy. Now I am at a complete loss as to why this is (it also turns out that the council owns a number of beaches in Cornwall), what interest does the council have in owning beaches let alone renting them? What purpose does it serve? Hopefully Cornwall Council, will reassess the need to lease beaches from the Duchy, we have lots of beaches already but what we need now is money.

It also transpires that the council are currently reviewing some of their arrangements regarding lifeguard cover. Cornwall Council is quite unique amongst councils that it actually pays the RNLI to provide lifeguard cover. This is despite whether they own them or not, the beaches of Porthtowan, Crantock, Trevone and Porthcothnan for example are part owned by the Duchy but Cornish taxpayers money funds the lifeguard cover. There are other examples of beaches owned privately others by the National Trust and others by Parish Councils, that are in a similar situation.

I am not for a minute arguing that RNLI cover should be waived because Cornwall Council doesn't own or lease the land, but neither do I think its fair that our taxpayer money should be used in lieu of Duchy or private money. Hopefully the very rich Duchy will see the light and pay it's fair share and help save essential public services. After all, would the Duke even notice:

"Its record profits follow strong financial results from the Duchy of Cornwall, the property estate of the Prince of Wales, which saw profits up seven per cent to £16.3 million. The Duchy's overall value rose eight per cent to £647 million." 09 Jul 2008 Daily Telegraph

The full correspondence of my FOI request.