LONDON : British lawmakers on Tuesday took aim at Queen Elizabeth II’s household accountants, saying they must cut their costs and tackle a huge backlog of repairs to the monarch’s crumbling palaces.
Palace officials must also do more to boost the royal family’s income as they are dipping into reserve funds alarmingly often, parliament’s public accounts committee said in a report.
The queen’s reserves are down to a “historically low” £1 million ($1.65 million, 1.2 million euros), the report revealed. Committee chairwoman Margaret Hodge said lawmakers felt the queen had “not been served well” by her household accountants or by the Treasury, the finance ministry which is supposed to scrutinise royal spending.
“The household needs to get better at planning and managing its budgets for the longer term — and the Treasury should be more actively involved in reviewing what the household is doing,” she said.
The report warned that palace officials were failing to invest in repairs, with nearly 40 percent of the royal estate deemed to be in an unacceptable condition when assessments were made in March 2012.
One MP on the committee recalled that he had noticed leaks in Buckingham Palace’s picture gallery on a recent visit.
“The rain was coming in on the expensive paintings,” he told the committee.
The Victoria and Albert Mausoleum, where the late queen Victoria and her husband prince Albert are buried, has been waiting for repairs for 18 years, the report said, while other problems include walls riddled with asbestos.
Some of Buckingham Palace’s 775 rooms have not been refurbished for 60 years, a palace official told MPs.
“The household must get a much firmer grip on how it plans to address its maintenance backlog,” said Hodge.
A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said tackling repairs was “a significant financial priority for the royal household”.
“Recent examples of work include the renewal of a lead roof over the royal library at Windsor and the removal of asbestos from the basement of Buckingham Palace,” she said. “The need for property maintenance is continually assessed.”
The committee acknowledged that the queen’s household has managed to cut its net costs by 16 percent since 2007-8, but said most of this was through increasing its income, such as by opening the palace to tourists.
The royal household must do more to make efficiency savings, the report said.
It added that the palace should make sure it has “sufficient commercial expertise in place” in order to maximise the royal family’s income, such as through tours, leasing its properties and making its facilities available for commercial events.
Officials have also considered opening the doors of Buckingham Palace more often in order to bring in more money from tourists, but decided there were too many “constraints” including high set-up costs, the report said.
Currently the palace is open to the public during August and September, when the queen takes her summer holiday in Scotland, and there are private guided tours at other times.
The palace told lawmakers it had already made significant efficiency savings and had been forced to dip into reserves because of the huge cost of the diamond jubilee celebrations marking the queen’s 60th year on the throne in 2012.
Last year the queen received £31 million from the taxpayer to cover her staffing costs, travel and the maintenance of her palaces. The so-called Sovereign Grant is set to rise to £36.1 million in 2013-14 and to £37.9 million in 2014-15.