02 Jun, 2009

MPs say Buckingham Palace should stay open longer

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

Buckingham Palace should extend its opening season to the public to raise money to repair rapidly deteriorating royal monuments and buildings, a committee of MPs says today.

It calls on the royal household to reverse its business case on opening times because royal officials have not been “robust” enough in analysing the benefits against the costs of opening in January while the Queen is away at Sandringham.

A highly critical report from the Commons public accounts committee attacks royal officials for failing to divert enough cash from looking after works of art to the upkeep of buildings and accuses the royal household of withholding information.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is also criticised for failing to keep a “firm grip” on maintenance problems.

MPs were particularly angry that the Royal Mausoleum, the final resting place of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert at Frogmore, Windsor, had been allowed to deteriorate so much that English Heritage had put it on its “at risk” register.

The report says: “Work required to repair the mausoleum, a monument of national importance, has been outstanding for 14 years and its condition is getting worse. Repairing the mausoleum would cost around £3m but resource constraints mean the household has no plans to do the required work.”

Cash from Whitehall has been frozen at £15m since 2001 – a real-terms cut of almost a fifth – and spending on maintenance has dropped 27% to £11.1m a year.

Edward Leigh, Tory chairman of the committee, said: “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. 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.”

Richard Bacon, Conservative MP for South Norfolk, said: “Buckingham Palace was only open for 63 days in 2008 while the White House, also the official residence of a head of state, is open throughout the year. I am not suggesting we turf out the royal family to let the tourists in, but being precious over these buildings will not save them from the ravages of time.”

The household estimates the maintenance backlog at £32m, yet the sum is not based on hard evidence and there is no management strategy.

The report also reveals no attempt has been made to rationalise staff accommodation and save cash, despite proposals to move people to empty homes within the security perimeter of the royal palaces.

The report says: “In 2001, we recommended the royal household move its staff to accommodation within the secure perimeter of the palaces to allow more properties to be let … but since then only one member of staff has been moved.

“With 18 staff and pensioners accommodated outside the secure perimeter and 28 vacant properties inside, there is scope to reduce the subsidy of over £200,000 being provided by public funds.”

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