Royal overspend prompts call to open palace doors

Tourists stood outside Buckingham Palace gates Buckingham Palace is open to visitors daily in August and September

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Buckingham Palace should be opened to more paying visitors when the Queen is not in residence to fund improvements to the royal estate, MPs have said.

The Public Accounts Committee criticised the Royal Household for mismanaging its finances.

Chairwoman Margaret Hodge said there was "huge scope for savings" on the annual £31m of taxpayer funds given to the Queen to spend on official duties.

But a spokeswoman for the royals said spending was now more transparent.

The Sovereign Grant replaced the old Civil List and grants-in-aid system in 2012 and is used to fund royal duties, pay staff and maintain palaces.

The report said Buckingham Palace had overspent on the grant by £2.3m last year and had to dip into its reserves, "leaving a balance of only £1m at 31 March 2013 - a historically low level of contingency"

'Dangerous condition'

"I don't think we'd accuse anybody of profligacy but, what we are saying, is that we don't think the Queen is served well either by the Royal Household or, indeed, by the Treasury," Mrs Hodge told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Victoria and Albert Mausoleum at Frogmore The report said the Victoria and Albert Mausoleum was in need of repair

"They're not balancing books and they're dipping into their reserves," the Labour MP said.

The report also found:

  • The Royal Household was "not looking after nationally important heritage properties adequately", saying that, in March 2012, 39% of the royal estate was "below what the household deemed to be an acceptable condition"
  • The household needed "to get a much firmer grip" on how it planned to address the backlog and cost repairs and the Treasury "did not require an estimate"
  • The Treasury had a duty "to be actively involved in reviewing the household's financial planning and management - and it has failed to do so"
'Eke money'

While the committee praised the Royal Household for generating £11.6m last year - up from £6.7m in 2007/08 - it said more could be done.

Funding for the Queen 2012/2013

1. Sovereign Grant - £31m

Pays for royal duties, staff and maintaining palaces. Calculated as a percentage of profits from the Crown Estate property portfolio, worth £8.1bn.

2. Duchy of Lancaster income - £12.8m (net operating income)

Portfolio of land, property and assets held in trust for the Queen. Used to meet her official and private expenditure.

3. Personal wealth and income - Not known

Derived from personal investment portfolio and private estates, including Balmoral and Sandringham, and used to meet private expenses.

Source: British Monarchy website

Mrs Hodge said the Royal Household had escaped public sector austerity, only reducing spending by 5% in the past six years.

"They've kept the same amount of staff in there that they had five years ago, so we think that they can eke more money and they certainly should deal with the heritage properties."

She added: "The Queen can attract income - visitors to Buckingham Palace - but Buckingham Palace is only open 78 days a year, they only have about half a million visitors.

"Compare that to the Tower of London - they have over 2 million visitors."

She said boosting annual visitor numbers could help to pay for improvements both to Windsor Castle and to the Victoria and Albert Mausoleum, which had been waiting 18 years for repairs.

The Queen and Prince Philip arriving for a visit to Southwark Cathedral in London The Sovereign Grant funds the Queen's official duties
Art collection

Buckingham Palace's "state rooms" - those designed for monarchs to "receive, reward and entertain their subjects and visiting dignitaries" - have been open to the paying public during August and September since 1993.

Margaret Hodge MP: "The boiler in Buckingham Palace is 60 years old... if it doesn't get replaced, the bills go up"

Profits initially helped to pay for the restoration of Windsor Castle, which was fire-damaged in November 1992, and now go to the Royal Collection Trust charity, which manages the Royal Collection - "one of the most important art collections in the world".

A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said: "The move to the Sovereign Grant has created a more transparent and scrutinised system, which enables the Royal Household to allocate funding according to priorities.

Start Quote

The new arrangements established by the Sovereign Grant Act have made the royal finances more transparent than ever”

End Quote Treasury spokesman

"This has resulted in a more efficient use of public funds."

She added that it was a priority for the Royal Household to "reduce the backlog in essential maintenance across the occupied royal palaces".

A Treasury spokesman said "The new arrangements established by the Sovereign Grant Act have made the royal finances more transparent than ever while providing the long term stability necessary for good planning."

The committee had not properly taken these changes into account, he added.

The Sovereign Grant was £31m last year and is set to rise to £37.9m by 2014-15.

Anti-monarchy pressure group Republic, meanwhile, accused the committee of failing to take account of the cost of security, costs to local government and any revenue earned by the Duchy of Cornwall and Duchy of Lancaster estates.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    I am a royalist and love my queen. that said I would also expect her to reign in her expenses and join the rest of the country in making savings by doing without. after all.
    open it up to the unwashed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    This is off-topic, I apologise for that + expect my post to be removed, however, I am baffled about this topic's selection for HYS when your report regarding the Tories' proposed changes to legislation entitled "Fracking under homes could be allowed without permission" only made it to the back pages yesterday+was removed after only 24 hours. A somewhat more pressing matter! BBC WHAT IS GOING ON???

  • Comment number 122.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    The costs associated with the Royal Family are relatively negligible given government spending and our economy but they greatly raise the profile of the UK . I am not opposed to opening parts of royal properties to gain income and educate people on our history but the royal family remains good value and these historic buildings should be maintained in good order .

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    The cost of a Premier League footballer is paid for by the club, not by everybody's taxes.

    No it's not, it's paid by all Sky subscribers whether they're football fans or not. The only reason clubs can pay such stupid sums are the TV rights.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    94 MAYO

    1. one wrong does not make a right

    2. how can you compare premiership footballers with this grant? We are not funding them with our tax money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    The crown estate made a profit in 2012 of £240m. The royal family get ~£30m of this. I make that a contribution of £210m. This is land that was owned by the royal family until recently but taken into 'government' ownership.

    In my view if you're going to take away the hereditary property of one old english family, then you should take it from all the old aristocracy. Seems unreasonable to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    Prior to the civil list the crown paid for their up keep from the profits of the Crown estate.

    Profits of crown estate in 2013; £250m
    Civil List cost; £30m

    We, the people, seem to have got the bargain

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    Their setting on at a new Aldi in Chesterfield if the royals fancy a bit of pocket money, i am not a monarchist but do appreciate they bring a lot of tourists and therefor cash into the country.
    They have moved with the times and are changing for the better in my opinion.
    Long live the Queen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    More sound bites from Hodge, who only ever criticises and never comes up with any workable solutions.
    Royal family is an absolute bargain- if we had to pay for all the free press they generate for this country we'd be shelling out hundreds of millions, not to mention the huge tourist draw they remain.
    Maybe Hodge could target her own's party's economic record and legacy of debt first?

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    Buckingham Palace works quite hard for its money. The place where pop stars and civil servants (plus the odd deserving recipient) get their gongs, the service medals likewise, the charity garden parties, the state visits where a lot of business deals get done by aides, plus the 78 days already open to the public.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    I wouldn't want people looking around my home when I'm out whether I owned it or not! Leave our Royal Family alone. The do a damn sight more than some of the scroungers in this country!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    I'm waiting for the posh version of Benefit Street on TV, showing how many people are living off us in those numerous palaces. Perhaps it has already been done and I missed it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    I am OK with keeping the monarchy as long its just ceremonial, But in reality queen does have certain powers like she can dissolve parliament in case of emergency and can take over full control of the state. If anybody need such powers in a democratic nation then they should be elected directly or indirectly by people. I cant agree some one by birth getting those powers in this electronic age.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    I suppose as figurehead she is indeed a shining example of how this country is run for the few off the backs of the many whilst her government with the likes of the odious hypocrite Ian Duncan Smith demonize the poor and protect the rich...

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    Why on earth should anyone have to pay, at all, to get in to the palace? Everyone pays tax (except rich tax avoiders) and the queen is enormously wealthy. Let them meet the cost personally.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    monarchists never want to put it to a vote and they are incapable of distinguishing a ceremonial role for an executive one.

    the head of state is ceremonial, it can be elected and on the civil service pay grade.

    monarchists never freely do the right thing. parliament only came about when they were faced with the barrel of Cromwell's canons.

    role game in your bedroom kiss hands and whatnot there!

  • Comment number 107.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    Matriarchal Queen, galloping princes, sugary princesses, noble lords and fuedal barons. Funny old country

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    Now is the time to put the wheels in motion to disband the Monarchy.

    The Royals are part of our history and thus their old buildings should still draw a vast array of tourists.

    It is an outdated institution that has not served a purpose for a long time.

    The current Queen should be the last Monarch.


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