Britain's royal palaces are crumbling because of cuts in the money allocated to repair them and need urgent work that will cost £32m. Maintenance spending on the palaces, which include Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and St James's Palace, has shrunk by more than a quarter in less than a decade, the Government's auditor says.
A total of £11.1m was spent on maintenance last year, a 27 per cent fall in real terms since 2000, the report from the National Audit Office found. The value of the £15m grant-in-aid handed to the Royal Household from the Government, unchanged since 2000, has shrunk in real terms by 19 per cent, causing severe funding problems at the palaces.
The growing repair list includes £16m of new roofing at Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace, which also contains worn-out heating and electrical equipment that need replacing, at a cost of £2.4m.
Victorian cast-iron and lead water mains at Windsor are in need of a £3m overhaul and overdue conservation work on the Victoria and Albert Mausoleum, in grounds neighbouring the castle, has led English Heritage to label it as officially "at risk".
Palace aides say the public grant handed to the Royal Household from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will have to increase by at least £4m a year when the Government devises its next public spending plan in 2010, to clear the backlog.
The royal household staff have tried to cut costs by adopting thrifty methods familiar to more humble households: switching off lights, saving hot water and keeping a close eye on the electricity and gas meters.
The Royal Household managed to knock £400,000 off the running costs of the palaces last year, by reducing its utility bills. More Royal-owned properties have been let out in an attempt to cope with rising running costs, which have shot up by 11 per cent since 2000. The number of Royal properties available for rent has more than doubled to 36, bringing in more than £1m in rent each year.
The National Audit Office has urged the Culture department and the Royal Household's property section to hold urgent talks to work out which repairs are most pressing and how they can be funded. It said there was no agreement between the two on a standard of maintenance against which the state of the palaces could be measured.
Tim Burr, the head of the National Audit Office said: "The Royal Household and Department for Culture, Media and Sport need to develop a way of measuring the condition of the estate over time, so that the department has confidence that the future of these national assets is secure."
A spokeswoman for the Culture department said: "All departments face tough decisions about where to direct public spending to ensure value for money for taxpayers."
Jewels of the Crown: Where the work is needed
New lead and slate roofing at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.
Replacement of heating and electrical facilities at Buckingham Palace and removal of asbestos.
Conservation work on Victoria and Albert Mausoleum, currently on English Heritage's buildings at risk register.
Replacement of Victorian cast iron and lead water mains at Windsor.
Spent on maintenance last year, a drop of 27 per cent in real terms. Source: National Audit Office.