Queen cutting costs to survive, told to save more

December 10th, 2008 - 2:38 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Dec 10 (IANS) She’s facing the pinch of recession like everyone else in Britain. Her home is badly in need of repair. She’s checking her mounting gas and power bills. She has even stopped using the phone unless necessary. And her pension hasn’t gone up in a decade. The only factor setting her apart from the rest is the scale of her poverty, measured in millions of pounds and not pennies. After all, she is the queen.

The latest report of Britain’s National Audit Office (NAO) reveals Queen Elizabeth has had to adopt stringent cost-cutting measures across all her palaces in the last one year.

The attempts to reduce the household’s maintenance budget include cutting back on repairs, letting more properties and reducing the phone bill by more than 20 percent.

The queen’s annual maintenance grant of 15 million pounds from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport had not changed since 2000-01, a reduction of 19 percent in real terms.

In an attempt to deal with the shortfall, the royal household has more than doubled the number of properties it lets to 36, increasing the annual rent by nearly 100 percent to 1 million pounds. The number of residents living in rent-free accommodation has been reduced since 2000 from 70 to 42.

While the cost of utilities - in particular gas and electricity - has risen recently, the household reduced its utilities bill by 12 percent in 2007-08. The measures taken included energy-saving initiatives such as combined heat and power plants that provide hot water as well as generating electricity. The new generation of units have helped to reduce the electricity consumption by seven percent.

A result of the shortfall — now standing at 32 million pounds — has been cutting back on palace repairs. The result has been a growing backlog of repairs at the occupied royal palaces, which comprise Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, St James’s Palace and parts of Kensington Palace, Hampton Court Mews and Windsor Home Park.

The backlog includes 2.8 million pounds of conservation work to the Victoria and Albert Mausoleum near Windsor, which was identified as in need of repair 14 years ago and has been named by English Heritage as being at serious risk from lack of attention.

All the palaces also require urgent repair to the woodwork. The furniture is worn out, even the drapes need changing. Buckingham Palace is suffering from heat leaks all over. The maintenance of the gardens surrounding the palaces has been tawdry.

Yet, there is no one hearing the royal pleas. The Times has reported that despite the royal household’s attempts to save money, the NAO and the Commons Public Accounts Committee said that it could do better.

Edward Leigh, the committee chairperson, is quoted as saying: “The royal household has become more efficient in how it plans and manages its maintenance of the occupied royal palaces, in the face of real terms cut in funding, though more could yet be done.”

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