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Queen down and out? UK royal palaces ‘crumbling and leaky’ as her finances dwindle

Published time: January 28, 2014 16:04
Edited time: January 29, 2014 15:01
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II.(Reuters / Philip Toscano)

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II.(Reuters / Philip Toscano)

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, long thought to be one of the world’s richest women, is apparently down to her last million in savings, with palaces leaking and falling to pieces as MPs say she has been failed by her advisers and the Treasury.

The Queen’s courtiers have been advised to take money saving tips from the UK treasury, as her finances dip to an historic low with just £1 million left in reserve, the Telegraph reported.

A report by the Commons Public Accounts Committee found that her reserve fund had fallen from £35 million in 2001 to £1 million today. While the Royal household had made efficiency savings of just 5 percent over the past five years, government departments have made savings of up to a third.

MPs on the committee said that the Treasury must help to protect royal palaces from further damage and deterioration.

“We believe that the Treasury has a duty to be actively involved in reviewing the household’s financial planning and management – and it has failed to do so,” said Margaret Hodge, the Labour chairperson of the committee.

Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle are both in a terrible state of repair with staff required to catch rain in buckets to protect art and antiquities.

Meanwhile, in Buckingham Palace the 60-year-old boilers were running up bills of £774,000 a year and the wiring has not been replaced since 1949. More than a third of the royal estate has been found to be below “target condition.”

A tourist walks past Buckingham Palace in central London, on January 28, 2014. (AFP Photo / Carl Court)

The committee compared Buckingham Palace, which has just 500,000 visitors a year, to the Tower of London, which has more than £2 million.

“If you look at the Tower of London and its visitor numbers it makes you think that there’s potential here. Have they done their darnedest to maximize value for money?” Hodge said.

The report also found that the royal household has not even attempted to cost up its huge backlog of repairs because it believed there was no point in doing so until it has new funding in place.

The Crown Estate gets 15 percent of its income from the Sovereign Grant, which replaced the old way of funding the Royal Family through the civil list in 2012.

While the Royal Household’s net expenditure was £33.3 million last year, £31 million of this came from the Sovereign Grant. To find the difference, it had to dip into its reserve fund.

A spokesman for Buckingham Palace insisted that the Sovereign Grant had made the Queen’s funding “more transparent and scrutinized” and was resulting in a “more efficient use of public funds.”

But the committee found that much more needs to be done if the Crown Estate and the Royal Household are to properly manage the Queen’s finances.

“We got the impression that they just haven’t tried to make greater savings. Here we are, we’re all in it together, but they are failing to eke out better value for the Queen. They are dipping into their reserves in a way that just isn’t sensible,” Hodge said.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (AFP Photo / Stefan Rousseau)

The report found that the Treasury was not doing its job properly. It is responsible for overseeing the Royal Household finances but is not doing enough and should draw on its extensive experience and “offer advice on key packages.”

“The Household needs to get better at planning and managing its budgets for the longer term – and the Treasury should be more actively involved in reviewing what the household is doing,” Hodge said.

Number crunching

A closer look at both the report and the figures in it reveals that the Queens finances may be healthier than the Committee found, and in areas where she has lost money it is not the fault of the Treasury but of her managers, the Guardian reports.

The report its self was compiled from a series of questions and answers with just two witness giving the answers, Sir Alan Reid, Keeper of the Privy Purse and Mike Stevens, Deputy Treasurer to the Queen.

When asked why they did not cut back their expenditure, Sir Alan Reid replies: “We really believed that it is not wise to cut back on the level of activity of the monarchy.”

The figure of 1 million pounds does not accurately reflect the value of assets held by the Royal Household, the Guardian says. Their total reserves stand at 14.2 million pounds, 11.8 million pounds of which comes from property, plant and other equipment.The biggest chunk of royal spending goes on payroll, and although staff numbers remained unchanged over the past year cost have risen considerably.

Austin Mitchell, one of the members of the committee, asked: “It looks to me that you managed to survive and manage the finances by letting the buildings deteriorate, by freezing the staff costs and by digging into the reserves. Is that a fair summary of what has happened?”

To which Sir Alan replied, “I think that does summarize, to a degree, what happened last year.”

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