In 1642 when Parliament tried to “regulate” the revenues of the monarchy under Charles I it led, a few months later, to the first battles of the English Civil War. Now, 372 years on, Margaret Hodge and the ever combative House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) are attempting to have another go.
For the first time Parliament has today produced a report into the Royal finances, following a change in the law which gives MPs oversight of how the Queen spends her (and our) money.
And if Her Majesty thought she might get off lightly from the scourge of Google, Amazon and countless Government departments, she may need to think again.
The report castigates the Royal Household for being profligate at a time of constrained public spending and pointedly suggests that like the rest of Government, the Queen also has to do “more for less”.
It accuses the Royals of neglecting their palaces and displaying “complacency” about the extent of the problem. In conclusion it suggests the Queen is “not being served well by the Royal Household in balancing the books”, suggesting that even at 87, she needs to keep a closer eye on how her money is spent.
“The Household needs to get better at planning and managing its budgets for the longer term,” said Ms Hodge, the committee chair. “ With better commercial expertise in place, we think there is room to do more with less.”
The committee’s report comes in the wake of a change in the law in 2012 which consolidated the Civil List and Grants-in-Aid into a single Sovereign Grant which has to fund the Queen’s state functions and the upkeep of Royal palaces. The grant was £31m in 2013 and is set to rise to £36.1m this year and £37.9m in 2015. Ensuring the grant is spent wisely is overseen by the Nation Audit Office and PAC.
The Royal Household’s net expenditure of £33.3m was greater than the Sovereign Grant, so £2.3m had to be drawn from its £3.3m Reserve Fund, leaving a balance of only £1m at the end of the 2013 tax year. In its first report since the public grilling last year of the Queen’s Keeper of the Privy Purse, Sir Alan Reid, the PAC suggests that the Royals need to both cut their costs and increase their income. It points out that last year the Royal Household’s gas consumption rose by 14 per cent and the waste it generated by 9 per cent.
It pointedly asks why Buckingham Palace cannot be open to the public for longer, potentially increasing revenues. “Other historic buildings – for example, the Palace of Westminster – are open to visitors for longer periods through the year,” it concludes. But it is the failure to tackle the backlog of remedial work that particularly draws the committee’s ire. It is concerned that work to repair the Victoria and Albert Mausoleum, a monument of national importance, had been outstanding for 14 years.
Last night the response of Buckingham Palace could best be described as unamused – but not yet summoning an army. “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,” said a spokeswoman.
“This has resulted in a more efficient use of public funds. The Royal Household was charged by Parliament in 2009 to generate more income to supplement the funding it receives. This has been done successfully. Work on income generation continues.”