January is never an easy month for finances, what with the post-Christmas bills and all, and some serious belt-tightening is now required at the Royal Palaces with Queen Elizabeth II left with only one million pounds in her kitty. Just who is to blame for this historic low in the royal coffers? Could it be those pesky policemen who were pinching all the nuts? Turns out, that large-scale mismanagement and lack of foresight and forward planning is the root cause.
The Public Accounts Committee, which oversees the household expenditure of the House of Windsor, has told the Queen that she will have, like the rest of us, to “do more with less.” Better budgeting needs to be brought in forthwith as the £35 million she had in reserve is now whittled down to a measly one.
The Treasury are getting it in the neck, though not, as yet, being sent to The Tower, for their profligacy, lack of accountability and failure to advise on keeping up with basic repairs. They should have been keeping a more watchful eye on the royal cash running out. Admittedly they have had some big occasions to pay for, like weddings and jubilees, but even so, they could have been generating more income and not spending so much.
This scrutiny and criticism comes about because the sovereign grant, which funds the monarchy, is taxpayers’ money. The Keeper of the Privy Purse, Sir Alan Reid, stands accused of not keeping it very well. He hasn’t even had the boilers fixed and they are sixty years old. Even the roof at Buckingham Palace is leaking every time it rains (which in Britain, is a lot) and they still haven’t got round to taking the asbestos out of the basement.
To be fair, they are not flinging public funds around paying high salaries. The staff are on remarkably modest-to-low wages, even though they still have 430 of them, which has not decreased in seven years. This is in stark contrast to the public sector where many jobs have gone but efficiency has been expected to remain constant. This does not apply to Sir Alan of course. The Keeper of the Privy Purse is on £188,000 a year. Not bad pay for holding a purse.
Margaret Hodge,who has chaired the Commons Committee looking into the royal family finances, was somewhat surprised when asked if she thought they had too many palaces. Even though her recommendations seem severe, and even damning, in parts, she confessed, “We wouldn’t have dared to look at that.” There are lines you don’t cross in a royal review, even in the spirit of greater transparency.
When pushed on the point, that maybe courtiers, and those (mis)managing the accounts, showed similar reverence, thus allowing these overspends to accumulate, Ms. Hodge said it would have to be a question “for another year.” As the Queen is already 87 years old, it could be a question that goes on being put off, for fear of offending an elderly and highly-regarded lady.
Hodge did say it was the first “dip of the toe into the water” into full appraisal as to how the sovereign grant got spent and that already there was “stronger visibility, accountability and transparency.”
Unfortunately what is transparent is that the Queen and her family are spending more than they can afford to. As Charles Dickens noted so sagely: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery.”
The Queen has an annual income of £36 million, but it is not stretching far enough. It will be interesting to see what she does to “reign” it in. She will have to act soon, as that final million won’t last long with all those boilers needing mended.
Satire by Kate Henderson