Royal family down to last million in reserves

JILL LAWLESS
Last updated 07:06 29/01/2014
royal family
Reuters

FISCAL TRUTH: A report on the finances of Queen Elizabeth II has exposed crumbling palaces and depleted coffers.

Queen 'down to her last million'

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Britain's royal household needs to get a little more entrepreneurial, eye possible staff cuts and replace an ancient palace boiler, lawmakers say in a new report.

The report published on Tuesday on the finances of Queen Elizabeth II has exposed crumbling palaces and depleted coffers, and discovered that a royal reserve fund for emergencies is down to its last £1 million (NZ$2 million).

Legislators on the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee urged royal officials to adopt a more commercial approach and suggested opening up Buckingham Palace to visitors more often.

The panel said the royal household needed more cash to address a serious maintenance backlog on crumbling palaces. It said at least 39 percent of royal buildings - and probably more - were in an unacceptable state, "with some properties in a dangerous or deteriorating condition."

"The boiler in Buckingham Palace is 60 years old," committee chair Margaret Hodge told the BBC. "The household must get a much firmer grip on how it plans to address its maintenance backlog."

In words that have become familiar to Britons during five years of austerity, Hodge urged the royals "to do more with less."

The report pointed out that the royal household's staff has remained largely static at just over 430 people in the last seven years, a period that has seen deep cuts to public spending and thousands of civil service layoffs.

Hodge, a Labour Party lawmaker, said Buckingham Palace was only open to the public 78 days a year, drawing half a million visitors, and suggested that boosting visitor numbers could help raise funds.

"We think a little bit of a more commercial approach by those who are responsible for serving the queen would serve her better in garnering more income," Hodge said.

The queen received £31 million (NZ$62.2 million) from taxpayers in 2012-2013, but Hodge said the monarch "has not been served well by the household and by the Treasury," which is responsible for overseeing royal costs.

The report said because of overspending, the royal Reserve Fund had shrunk from £3.3 million to £1 million in 2012-2013, a historic low that raised fears "it could be unable to cover its expenditure on any unforeseen events."

Buckingham Palace said in a statement it had boosted its income by almost £5 million (NZ$10 million) between 2007 and 2013, and "work on income generation continues." It said it was working to carry out essential maintenance and had recently removed asbestos from the basement of Buckingham Palace.

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