Royals 'living in crumbling surroundings'

Members of the public admire Buckingham Palace. Photo Getty Images
Members of the public admire Buckingham Palace. Photo Getty Images

British members of parliament have criticised Queen Elizabeth's Royal household for blowing its annual budget while neglecting repairs at Buckingham Palace, which two lawmakers suggested was falling apart.

The palace, which is over 300 years old, has not had its electrical wiring renewed since 1949, needs asbestos removing and has 60-year old boilers, parliament's Public Accounts Committee said in a report.

The report included a transcript of exchanges between MPs and a royal household official over the upkeep of the palace, which is the monarch's London home.

"So work is being carried on while they are living in crumbling surroundings?" opposition Labour MP Austin Mitchell asked Sir Alan Reid, keeper of the privy purse and treasurer to the queen.

"Clearly the buildings are not actually falling down," Reid replied.

"The wall as you walk in through the main gates of Buckingham Palace was," a second MP, Conservative Richard Bacon, interjected. "I remember walking under it and it being explained to us that the stone ... was dropping on people, although I don't think anyone was actually hit."

The queen and royal family command widespread respect and affection in Britain, but their spending has not escaped scrutiny as the country has tightened its belt since the global financial crisis of 2008.

The Royal Household's latest accounts showed it had exceeded its 2012-13 budget of 31 million pounds ($51.38 million) by 2.3 million pounds, the report said. To plug the gap, it had to dip into a reserve fund.

The committee urged both the Royal Household and the Treasury, the government ministry that monitors and approves its financial plans, to increase cost-saving efforts.

"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," said Margaret Hodge, chair of the committee.

The report also noted the slow progress of repairs on the Royal Mausoleum near Windsor Castle, west of London, which houses the tombs of Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert, even though it was identified as a priority in 2009.

In a 2013 submission to the National Audit Office the Royal Household said it was "trying to dry it out a bit, but it's not a high priority," referring to the mausoleum.

"The Household must get a much firmer grip on how it plans to address its maintenance backlog," Hodge said in the report.

In a relaxation of the squeeze on financing, the Sovereign Grant, the annual funding for the Royal Household, is set to rise from 31 million pounds to 36.1 million in 2013-14 and to 37.9 million the following year.

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