Committee of Public Accounts

Press Notice No. 33 of Session 2005-06, dated 21 March 2006


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

"The marvellous Royal Parks provide relaxation and enjoyment for millions of Londoners and visitors to the city. But the management of the parks has hitherto been marked by complacency and a lack of imagination. The Royal Parks agency has now taken steps to determine what it will cost to address the backlog of maintenance work required on its buildings and structures. But the agency's plans for increasing the income from its assets have been too cautious.

"The Royal Parks agency needs to open its eyes and find out how well it is really performing - by comparing itself with similar organisations here and abroad. It must also get out there and find out who actually use its parks. Otherwise, the agency's declared aspiration to increase the numbers of children and young people who use the Royal Parks amounts to little.

"There is one respect, however, in which the Royal Parks agency is blameless. It has been saddled with an annual bill of a quarter of a million pounds to maintain the ill-conceived and ill-executed memorial fountain for Diana, Princess of Wales. This so-called water feature will literally be a drain on the resources of the Royal Parks agency for years to come. This is a typical example of the great and good airily embarking on a prestige project which will take away money badly needed for the upkeep of national recreational facilities enjoyed by millions.

"There are lessons aplenty here for the proposed project to erect a memorial to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother."

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 33rd Report of this Session, which examined the management of The Royal Parks, achieving a wider range of users, and the management of the fountain project.

The eight Royal Parks covered in this Report are major historical and cultural resources, which cover some 5,000 acres and attract millions of visitors each year. The Parks are: St James's Park, The Green Park, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens and The Regent's Park (with Primrose Hill) in Central London; Greenwich Park to the East; and Richmond Park and Bushy Park to the West.

The Parks are managed by The Royal Parks, an executive agency of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (the Department). The Royal Parks (the Agency) is accountable to Parliament through the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport who sets the organisation's policy and key performance targets and determines its level of resources each year.

In 2004-05 the Agency's grant from the Department was £26.7 million and its self-generated income amounted to £6.9 million, making total income that year of £33.6 million. The Agency employed 97 Parks staff and 63 officers and administrative staff of The Royal Parks Constabulary. Much of the Agency's work, including grounds and work maintenance, is contracted out.

Management of the Royal Parks

The Agency is responsible for maintaining the buildings, statues, memorials and roads within the Parks. The Agency estimates that it has a £65 million backlog of maintenance work and to help address this is seeking to make efficiency savings and generate more income.

The Agency is aiming to raise £7 million of income in 2005-06 but commercial events, a significant source of income, can lead to damage in the Parks and in the past the Agency has had difficulties recovering its costs and making a profit.

Although the Parks are highly regarded, the Agency has been too inward-looking in assessing its performance and has recently begun to explore opportunities for comparisons with other parks.

Achieving a wider range of uses and users

One of the Agency's main objectives is to encourage greater access to the Parks but the Agency has little knowledge of the number, or background, of its visitors. The Agency is now collecting more reliable data on those visiting the Parks and on non-users.

The Agency has not always focussed on the needs of its users but there are recent examples of the Agency looking to engage local communities more in the work of the Parks.

Management of the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain

The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park was opened in July 2004. But the Agency has had to close the fountain and carry out further work, on more than one occasion, due to flooding and people slipping in and around the Memorial.

Costs of the fountain have risen to £5.2 million, exceeding the original budget of £3 million. The Agency is responsible for the future maintenance of the fountain at an estimated cost of £250,000 a year, which will divert resources from its other work in The Royal Parks.

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