THE MEDIA'S fixation on the disclosure that the Royal Household receives pounds 20m grant-aid from the Government lay behind yesterday's anger and threats of legal action from Buckingham Palace.
The Commons Public Accounts Committee report called for more 'public visibility' of the Household's spending of taxpayers' money. The Royal Household already supplies detailed annual reports to the Department of National Heritage, although they are not made public - and are therefore open to the guesswork of Britain's tabloid press.
'A Right Royal rip off' exclaimed Today on its front page before embarking on a double-spread inquisition into how ' pounds 20m of our tax vanishes EVERY year. And last night astonished MPs were demanding an investigation into the scandal.'
The report said the Royal Household uses 272 self-contained properties, including eight occupied by members of the Royal Family. Staff of the Royal Household occupy 174 of the flats, houses and cottages. Retired staff granted 'grace and favour accommodation' after more than 20 years' service occupy a further 49 properties. Such pensioners are housed on their retirement 'where it might cause financial or other difficulties for them to find their own accommodation'.
The Mirror went for the jugular with a headline screaming: ' pounds 20m Disgrace and Favour', which delighted in explaining how 'You pay for 272 royal homes' and 'Flunkies live in luxury for free'. Under a section headed 'Lucky Lady', the paper described how Lady Maclean, widow of the former Lord Chamberlain, lives in a 10- bedroom property, in the grounds of Hampton Court, which on the open market would command pounds 7,000 a week - 'she likes to spend the winter in London because her castle in Scotland is too draughty'.
The report justified the low rents because if they were based on market values they would be too high and they could not be let out to private individuals for legal and security reasons.
All private bills are paid for by individual members of the Royal Family but the grant- in-aid from the Department of National Heritage covers utilities and telephone bills at the palaces which the Queen uses to fulfil her role as sovereign.
The Royal telephone bill was pounds 766,000 in 1992-93, of which pounds 20,000 was recovered from members of the Royal Family and Household staff. The Telegraph calculated a telephone bill of about pounds 1,500 a head suggesting each member of the household was a heavier user than 'the average business'. The Guardian, next to a photograph of Queen Victoria with storm clouds gathering overhead, stated 'Fury at royal 'housing benefit' '.
But the most painful attack on the Royal Household came not from the tabloids but the BBC. Paul Reynolds, the BBC's court reporter, commented on the way Buckingham Palace had squirrelled away pounds 2.6m of the pounds 4.8m proceeds taken from visitors during the first year of opening up state rooms at the palace.
LATER editions of yesterday's Independent reported that Paul Reynolds, the BBC's court reporter, had said in a radio broadcast that Buckingham Palace had 'squirrelled away' pounds 2.6m of the pounds 4.8m income from opening the palace to the public. Our report was based on a misunderstanding with a Palace spokesman. Mr Reynolds said that the difference between the income and the amount that went towards restoring Windsor Castle 'was not, they say, due to the squirrelling away of the rest but to the start up and running costs of the scheme'.Reuse content