Editorial: Household budget blues

Last updated 10:59 30/01/2014

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OPINION: The Queen's down to her last million, we're told. "Aren't we all?" somebody tweeted.

Except she isn't really. Some of the global headlines have been a tad astray. In fact, the royal household's total reserves top [PndStlg]14 million, a figure that, we grant you, has been declining discomfortingly. It's the reserve fund for emergencies that has been spectacularly depleted to last- million status. And there's certainly some major spending needed for palace and property upgrading work.

The Queen might be asset-rich, but her annual income and expenditure fail the McCawber test, and the predicted misery has shown up in the form of growled advice from politicians - dreadful people - piously instructing her household to manage its finances better and perhaps generate more income. Like those MPs are so very good at doing themselves.

Perhaps this sort of pressure is what was behind the recent allegation that people found so jolly from the UK phone- tapping inquiry that the Queen has been known to mark the level of snack-bowls at Buckingham Palace in order to discourage pilfering.

The House of Commons public accounts committee suggests opening up Buckingham Palace to visitors more often during her absences and looking at staffing levels and remuneration. Possibilities, yes, but let's not forget that this is a family firm that really does work for a living and, though its expenses can be pored over, its wider financial benefits to the nation are nothing like as closely identified. That doesn't make them insubstantial.

The Guardian has published what it called an "interesting" and we'll call a "snotty" extract of exchanges from the committee chair Margaret Hodge's interruptive questioning of the arcanely titled Keeper of the Privy Purse, Sir Alan Reid. Why, she asked, had reserves as high as [PndStlg]35 million in 2001 been permitted to drop to less than a million now? Because it was always intended that that money would be spent by the end of 2010, he began . . .

But why hadn't the household cut back its level of expenditure? Because they believed it unwise to cut back the level of activity . . .

Another amputated explanation. There really does seem to be a political impatience with any palace approach that equates spending cuts to service cuts. The public mantra, after all, has long been "doing more with less". That is not quite so easily done when conspicuous opulence is quite tightly connected with a sense of national heritage.

The Government doesn't want to see featherbedding but those extra tourists it wants teeming through Buckingham Palace will be expecting to see feather beds.

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And yet The Guardian does arch an eyebrow at the royal inventory showing [PndStlg]400,000 in wine and spirits, meaning fully [PndStlg]100,000 worth has been drunk, sold or gifted since 2012.

Her Majesty's loyal press has been doing its bit by inviting readers to share their money-saving tips with her. A selection: cut off dependent relatives; move to a small cottage; sell some jewels on eBay; rent out a few palaces; pics with tourists at [PndStlg]5 a pop; start a chain letter; privatise the monarchy.

If we may contribute a thought, the royal household might want to consider legitimate ways to present the state with more bills for services rendered. Modern sensibilities cut both ways, surely.

From the monarch's rarefied perspective, if it's true that one needs money, is it not also true that money needs one? If the Government wishes to keep using her likeness on notes, coins and stamps, then perhaps its people and her people need to have a talk about fair recompense.

The United States version of heritage royalty, Disney, would have its own lawyers all over that one.

- The Southland Times


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