Report on maintaining the Royal Palaces

02 June 2009

The Public Accounts Committee today publishes a report looking at the costs of maintaining the Occupied Royal Palaces.

Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:

"The Department for Culture, Media and Sport does not have a firm grip on its responsibilities for maintaining the upkeep of the Occupied Royal Palaces. The Royal Household, to whom day-to-day responsibility has been delegated, thinks that it would cost £32 million to address the backlog of maintenance work that has built up. But no rigorous analysis has been carried out and, in truth, neither the Household nor the Department really knows how big the problem is or what to do about it.

"It is a scandal that the condition of the Victoria and Albert Mausoleum has deteriorated to the point where this monument of national importance is on the Buildings at Risk Register – but the Household’s resources are constrained.

"What is needed, by the end of 2009, is an agreed basis for determining the maintenance backlog across the whole estate and a plan for managing it.

"Each year hundreds of thousands of tourists visit the Palaces that are open to the public. You would think that income generated from entrance fees could be used to top up the resources available to maintain these buildings. In fact, the body which receives the visitor income, the Royal Collection Trust, has so far passed over only a small fraction to the Household. This inequitable arrangement should be sorted out by the Department."

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 24th Report of this Session. The Committee had taken evidence from Department for Culture, Media and Sport (the Department) and the Royal Household (the Household). In addition, the Committee had visited Buckingham Palace, Clarence House, St James’s Palace and Windsor Castle to see a selection of the Household’s maintenance projects.

The Occupied Royal Palaces Estate (the Estate), which includes Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, is held in Trust for the Nation and used to support the official duties of The Sovereign. The Department is accountable to Parliament for the upkeep of the Estate, but has delegated day to day responsibility to the Household. The Department gives the Household an annual grant to maintain and run the Palaces, which has remained at around £15 million since 2000–01 (a 19 per cent real terms reduction). An increase in running costs over the same period means there has been a 27 per cent fall in maintenance expenditure to £11.1 million in 2007–08.

The Department has set the Household an objective which focuses on the condition of the Estate, but none of the key indicators measures performance against it, and the Household does not have a comprehensive analysis of the condition of the Estate. In addition, despite our warning in 2001, the Household has reported that a £32 million maintenance backlog has built up. As a result, important work such as the repairs to the Victoria and Albert Mausoleum has been deferred. The Department and the Household have yet to agree criteria for assessing the backlog and develop a plan for managing it. In addition, the Household does not have a strategy for managing its Estate.

The Royal Collection Trust (the Trust) is responsible for the works of art held in Trust for the Nation, but is not accountable to Parliament. The Trust manages visitor admission to the Palaces and receives the income generated, which in 2007–08 totalled £28 million. The Trust shares some of the Windsor Castle income with the Household (£1.8 million in 2007–08), and, eight years after we first recommended it, the Trust plans to share income from visitors to Buckingham Palace with the Household from April 2009. In contrast to Windsor Castle, which is open to the public virtually all year, Buckingham Palace is open for 63 days because of the number of official engagements and the costs involved. Other buildings such as the White House and Houses of Parliament manage to open for most of the year, despite similar obligations and security concerns.

The Household uses the Estate to accommodate some members of the Royal Family, 139 current and 32 former staff, and has 36 properties available to let. Since 2001, the Household has increased the rent received from £418,000 to £1 million. In the absence of a strategy the Household assesses the suitability of properties to let on a case by case basis. Despite our recommendations eight years ago, the Household has only moved one member of staff to within the secure perimeter, although there are 28 vacant properties within it.

Image: PA

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