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: 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.


  1. All very well, but the RNLI provide cover worth about £4 to £5 million, but charge Cornwall Council less than £1.8m. If CC only want to pay for the cover on the 27 beaches they own, the RNLI have said they'll charge a commercial rate, giving the Council a saving of £100k, and leaving the other 30 beaches potentially without cover. The Council are asking the Duchy and National Trust for contributions, but I'll bet they say no. We're already getting a great deal, let's not muck the RNLI about, and risk Cornwalls image as a safe holiday destination, for £100k

  2. The whole story falls to bits because this:

    " Cornwall Council is quite unique amongst councils that it actually pays the RNLI to provide lifeguard cover."

    Is not correct.

  3. Dear anon, I see your point and I am not arguing that we should muck the RNLI about or anything similar. Lets not forget its not just in terms of a holiday destination that beach safety is important, locals rely on the crucial service too.

    Thanks for the breakdown of the figures, out of interest where did you obtain them from?

    Cormorant: I don't quite understand your point here Cormorant I provided the link for the FOI conversation I had with Andy Brigden Maritime Manager Cornwall Council in his reply on the 11th October he states

    "We have some beaches owned by the Duchy which we have a lifeguard
    service on (also have Private, NT, MOD and other users as well) and we
    are looking at these as we don't get any contribution from them at the
    present time)"

    I can't see what your point is, Cormorant happy to help though

  4. Cornwall Council are not "unique" in paying the R.N.L.I. for lifeguard cover. I would be happy if you would address the subject I posted,please.

  5. As no answer is forthcoming, I must assume you think it is correct to use a false premise to make a point. I think this may be habit-forming, especially when it comes to the subject of the Duchy.

  6. Firstly thanks for coming back and commenting Cormorant, I note that you feel that quite unique is not how you would describe the relationship between Cornwall Council and the RNLI. I feel it is so, no authority in the British Isles has a completely unique arrangement with the RNLI. Some authorities provide lifeguard cover inhouse, some only provide limited cover.
    The way in which I believe Cornwall Council is quite unique is threefold, firstly our unitary authority covers a vast area and CC provides funding for 57 beaches a great deal more than the norm for other local authorities . Secondly because of this a large sum is paid to the RNLI for this service, again well above the norm. Thirdly Cornwall is quite unique in the length of the cover over the year whereas the norm is to cover the summer holidays, Cornwall Council extends this funded - or more properly subsidised RNLI cover- outside of summer, mainly to fit around surfers. Not uncommon but quite unique as regards the number of beaches.

    Perhaps I have also been unclear with the premise of the point I wish to make; should land owners have a duty of care to provide lifeguard cover?
    Or to put it another way; should taxpayers money be spent protecting individuals on Duchy land?
    To be clear the premise concerns the relationship between land ownership and public safety and specifically who should pay.

    Anything else you are unsure of, or need explaining please do not hesitate to ask.

  7. But surely much of "uniqueness" is down to geography and climate? Cornwall has nearly 300 miles of coastline and,(compared to many places in Britain), a mild year-round climate.
    The National Trust own 110 miles of Cornwall's coastline,(more than a third of the total). Do you know who pays for their lifeguard cover?

  8. The uniqueness is in some sense concerned with geography and the fact due to climate that Cornwall has a large number of beach owners.

    All lifeguard cover is part funded by the council and part by RNLI whether the land is private e.g. Gwithian beach, MOD e.g. part owners of Perran sands beach or the many Naional Trust beaches.

    You're right to point out the National Trust here, for example beaches such as Holywell Bay, Godrevy and Porthcurno they own, charge for parking but as yet do not contribute toward lifeguard cover.

    I have not looked at the full list of beach ownership in Cornwall, click on the names of the beaches at the bottom of this link to investigate:

    The reason I singled out the Duchy rather than any of the other owners is for two reasons. One the Duchy is much richer and more capable of paying than say the NT. Secondly the Duchy owns all of the foreshore around Cornwall and this right comes with no responsibility. When entering the sea no matter who owns the beach, Duchy land is crossed.

  9. Does the Duchy own the foreshore? I have heard this before and there seems to be some evidence that the Crown Estates administer the foreshore etc.

  10. The sea and seabed off Cornwall (and Britain) belongs to the UK monarch/government through the Crown Estate. They do not belong to the duke of Cornwall and this fact undermines the claim which some nationalists make that Cornwall is a sovereign entity of which the duke is the sovereign; or a crown dependency. Maritime countries have sovereignty of adjoining seas, their territorial waters, as do crown dependencies. For example, the waters within twelve nautical miles of the Isle of Man, a crown dependency, are not the territorial waters of the UK but of the Isle of Man.

  11. There is still an exception between Cornwall and the rest of the UK, the foreshore in the case of Cornwall belongs to the Duchy, east of the Tamar it belongs to the crown.

    The Isle of Man is a bad or perhaps inconsistent example to cite in relation to ownership of the seabed. In international terms the Isle of Man's territorial waters fall under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom. Further the rules applied to the UK and the Isle of Man in relation of territorial jurisdiction have changed significantly over the years the 1987 Territorial Sea Act being a prominent example.

    Furthermore I have not come across anybody that has argued that Cornwall is not part of the UK, rather it is not part of England. So much like England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland Cornish territorial waters are analgous with United Kingdom territorial waters. The argument being that Cornwall is a Duchy extra-territorial to England with a titular head of state but nonetheless part of the United Kingdom.