Dozens of aristocrats claim under UK furlough scheme

Dukes, earls and marquesses, some of them owners of inherited estates, have drawn on public funds

Dozens of members of Britain’s land-owning aristocracy have claimed under the taxpayer-funded furlough scheme to pay staff at their ancestral estates and personal businesses.

Analysis of publicly available data reveals the names of at least 50 nobles, including dukes, earls, viscounts, barons and marquesses, who have drawn on public funds.

The list includes the owners of vast inherited estates with a combined area nearly the size of Worcestershire, as well as hereditary peers already paid by the taxpayer to sit in the House of Lords, and the owners of multimillion-pound art collections.

Details of the aristocracy’s use of the furlough scheme emerged after the Guardian revealed last month that tax exiles, Saudi royals, oil-rich gulf states and multi-billionaires had also drawn on taxpayer support to pay furloughed staff.

The latest snapshot reveals that claimants including companies owned by the Duke and Duchess of Rutland, who are divorced and live in separate parts of the duke’s ancestral home, Belvoir Castle, which sits in 15,000 acres of Leicestershire parkland and has featured in The Crown.

Treasury disclosures suggest that the pair made four claims of up to £10,000 in December, increasing the amount to between £10,000 and £25,000 in January when a national lockdown took hold.

They also own the Engine Yard Cafe & Bistro and a clothes shop, the Duchess Gallery, which claimed up to £55,000 between them over the two months.

The duke, a former Ukip supporter, was listed as having an estimated wealth of £125m in the 2013 Sunday Times rich list, although he sold an item from his art collection, a painting by Van Dyck, to fund the estate’s upkeep. The pair did not respond to requests for comment.

Wellington Estates Barn, which had one employee during 2019, received up to £10,000. Companies House data list the Earl of Mornington, heir to the title Duke of Wellington, among persons with significant control over the company.

The company is part of the 7,000-acre Wellington estate in Hampshire, including Stratfield Saye, the former home of the first duke, who triumphed over Napoleon Bonaparte at Waterloo in 1815.

A spokesperson said: “It is the estate’s (and we believe government) policy to furlough only those employees at risk of redundancy as a result of the law preventing the business in question from trading.”

Viscount Cowdray, Michael Pearson, owns a stake in the Pearson publishing and education company as well as the 16,500-acre Cowdray Park estate, which features a golf course and a polo club that refers to itself as the “home of British polo”. Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales were often photographed at Cowdray, where as a young royal Charles competed in tournaments.

Treasury data shows a claim on behalf of Viscount Cowdray of up to £25,000 in December 2020, rising to between £25,000 and £50,000 in January. He also owns Cowdray farm shop, which claimed up to £25,000 in January. Cowdray Park polo club and the estate’s golf course also received support. Viscount Cowdray did not return requests for comment.

An environmental consultancy owned by Christopher Monckton, the third Viscount of Brenchley and a former adviser to Margaret Thatcher, is listed as one of the smallest companies to claim taxpayer support. With one employee as of 2019 listed in its latest accounts, the firm received £10,000 in both December and January.

A regular speaker at events around the world, who has dismissed the notion of manmade global heating, Monckton is a former deputy leader of Ukip. He was sacked by Nigel Farage, who later condemned him for remarks he made about homosexuality. He did not return requests for comment.

Treasury data shows a £10,000 claim in January under the name of the Marquess of Northampton, Spencer Compton, who had an estimated net worth of more than £100m in 2017, according to the Sunday Times rich list.

A claim of up to £10,000 in December, rising to £25,000 in January, for the Falcon hotel on his Ashby estate is also registered.

“In line with government policy we used the furlough scheme at a time of great uncertainty when the only other option would have been to make people redundant. We used the scheme, as it was intended, to save jobs,” said a spokesperson.

One of the largest claimants among companies linked to aristocrats is Brechin Castle Centre, a country park, shop, cafe and garden centre in the grounds of a castle built in the 13th century near Angus, Scotland.

The company received up to £100,000 in January, after increasing its claim from up to £10,000. Its owner, the Earl of Dalhousie, is also the lord steward, a senior official of the royal household personally appointed by the Queen.

In 2019 he put Brechin Castle up for sale, citing the cost of upkeep. He did not return a request for comment.

Between them, the aristocratic claimants own approximately 448,000 acres of land, according to analysis by Guy Shrubsole, the author of Who Owns England?

Olivia Blake, a Labour member of the Commons public accounts committee, which overseas government spending, said: “Clearly the furlough scheme was an opportunity to protect hundreds of thousands of jobs up and down the country. It’s meant to be a lifeline for businesses hit hardest by the pandemic.

“Questions need to be asked about whether this money has gone to those who really need it, or to people and companies who could have made their way through comfortably. Many companies have been handing money back, which perhaps suggests the initial scheme needed more thought.”

Many of the claims were in the names of the peers themselves, rather than companies they own. HMRC said this was because of an ongoing process ironing out the detail in a vast repository of data.

Three hereditary peers are also listed among claimants. They are the Earl of Lindsay, Earl Howe and the Earl of Glasgow. The Earl of Lindsay, who declined to comment, is understood to have claimed just over £2,000.


Rob Davies and Joseph Smith

The GuardianTramp

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