Exclusive: Royal books face MPs' scrutiny for first time

Westminster watchdog’s historic inquiry set to expose Queen’s aides to questioning

The Queen’s closest aides face the prospect of a historic public grilling by MPs about whether the Royal Family is providing value for taxpayers’ money.

Parliament’s most powerful watchdog, the Public Accounts Committee, is expected to launch an inquiry later this year into the finances of the Queen and the Royal Family. This follows a change in the law which, for the first time, gives MPs oversight of royal finances.

Such an inquiry will cause trepidation in Buckingham Palace because of the committee’s formidable reputation for lambasting civil servants and government departments if it deems they have misused public funds.

As well as shaming Amazon, Starbucks and Goldman Sachs over their tax affairs, the committee has grilled a succession of Whitehall bosses over their tax affairs, the committee has grilled a succession of Whitehall bosses over wasteful spending in their departments. Often these have led to damning public reports. This week alone the MPs accused the Department of Work and Pensions of causing “misery and hardship”, the Department of Health of “abject failure” and the Department of Energy of “failing to get to grip” with Britain’s mountain of nuclear waste.

The PAC, chaired by the former Labour minister Margaret Hodge, will decide on the scope of any inquiry after the National Audit Office is granted access to the Queen’s finances next month. Auditors will produce a report on their findings which will then be scrutinised by the committee who will decide whether to call palace officials to give evidence. Committee sources indicated that this was likely to happen.

“Margaret wants to do it – but obviously it’s got to be a decision of the whole committee,” said a source.

“I’m all in favour of it,” said Austin Mitchell, a Labour MP who sits on the committee. “It’s not intrusive. It is about ensuring that the public are getting good value for money.

“At the moment there is no accountability for spending what is a considerable fortune.”

Among the areas the committee is expected to examine are transport costs including the Royal Train and the Royal Flight, as well as money spent on official entertaining and the upkeep of palaces.

Money given to junior royals to support their work backing up the Queen will also be scrutinised while the committee may also want to examine whether Buckingham Palace is doing enough to raise money itself by selling the royal brand. For example while the Palace now opens to paying visitors during the summer some have argued it should be open all year round.

The change has come about after George Osborne scrapped the Civil List – an annual handout to the Royal Family that has had to be approved by Parliament since 1760 – in favour of paying the Monarch 15 per cent of the income from the Crown Estates as a new “Sovereign Grant”.

Crown Estate assets include Regent Street in London, Ascot racecourse and Windsor Great Park, 265,000 acres of farmland, as well as ownership of our national seabed stretching out 12 nautical miles around Britain. The Estate’s profits have been paid to the Treasury and taxpayers since 1760, after George III handed the Crown’s property to the state in return for an annual fee to support his duties. The income from the estates, now more than £240m is expected to increase to £450m by 2020 – which would more than double the Queen’s income from taxpayers’ to £67.5m at a time when voters have been told to expect a decade of austerity.

In April Buckingham Palace will receive £36.1m to fund the Queen’s official duties, a 16 per cent increase on the £31m paid by taxpayers last year.

MPs will examine the business strategy of the Crown Estates, which has been criticised for investing heavily in offshore wind farms, which Prince Charles has criticised as a “horrendous blot on the landscape”.

But under a controversial deal with the Palace the main income of the Prince of Wales, which he gets through the Duchy of Cornwall, will be outside the PAC’s scrutiny. The Duchy of Lancaster, a trust that provides the Queen’s private income, is also exempt.

The unprecedented parliamentary  inquiry will mean that Sir Alan Reid, the Keeper of the Privy Purse – effectively the Queen’s treasurer – will face the full glare of publicity by being questioned in front of the television cameras. Sir Christopher Geidt, the Queen’s private secretary, could also be called to give evidence. “We will be looking into the royals later this year,” a committee source said. “We need to be sure when other public services are being cut that there is value for money. We would certainly want to speak to the most senior people who control the purse strings.”

The Conservative MP Jacob Rees Mogg said that while he backed the move to give Parliament scrutiny of the Queen’s expenses it had to be “proportionate”. “It is perfectly reasonable for Parliament to examine expenditure on areas like royal palaces, state banquets and the postal service. But it would be unreasonable to examine the Queen’s private sources of income and expenditure and whether she prefers chocolate or plain Hobnobs.

“The Public Accounts Committee’s main job is to scrutinise large areas of national expenditure running to billions of pounds. I’m sure … it will not want to spend too large amount of time on the Royal Household which provides very good value for money.”

Buckingham Palace declined to comment.

Making a royal mint: Questions for the Queen

Subsidised royals

The Queen’s public subsidy not only pays for her work – but that of other members of “the firm” as well. The committee will want to look at how many public visits are carried out by members of the Royal Family, and how much each of the Queen’s relatives gets in subsidy from the Monarch (and hence the taxpayer).

Hospitality

Accounts in 2011 show that the Queen entertained over 76,000 guests, including 41,000 people who attended the seven royal garden parties. The committee may want to examine the costs per-head of these events and whether they could be done more cheaply.

Travel

Buckingham Palace’s travel accounts show that most of the £6.1m travel costs went on air travel – with £2.4m on helicopters and £2.2m on planes. Top of the Public Accounts Committee’s priorities may be to look at the travel costs associated with lesser members of the Royal Family such as Prince Andrew – nicknamed “Airmiles Andy” because of his allegedly expensive travel tastes.

Revenue raising

More than 600,000 people paid to visit Buckingham Palace last year when it opened during the summer, raising £10m in ticket sales. But the committee may question why the palace is not open for longer.

 

Sport
Lionel Messi pictured after reaching the final
world cup 2014
Sport
Lionel Messi and Thomas Muller have shone brightest for Argentina and Germany respectively on their way to the World Cup final
Sport
Brazilian fans watch the match for third place between Brazil and Netherlands
Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: Dutch pile on the misery in third place playoff
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Payment Developer (Swift, FOX, Vigil, .NET, SQL)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Payment Dev...

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?