Queen's household grilled over spendathon

3:18 PM, Jan 28, 2014   |    comments
Tourists walk around Buckingham Palace in London on Jan. 28, 2014. (Photo: Kirsty Wigglesworth, AP)
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LONDON (USA TODAY) - Tighten your belt and clean yourself up a little. That's the message to the royal household of Queen Elizabeth from British members of parliament, who issued a critical report Tuesday urging the palace to do more to cut costs while keeping up appearances.

The report by the Public Accounts Committee found that for 2012-2013, the royal household's budget of $51.38 million - which covers buildings maintenance, staff wages and associated costs such as travel to take part in royal duties - had been exceeded by almost $4 million.

To make up for the shortfall, the royal household was forced to draw on a reserve fund that now has a balance of "only" 1 million British pounds, about $1.7 million, the committee, chaired by the British Labour politician Margaret Hodge, said. The report said that the reserve fund was now running at a "historically low level."

"I am sorry to say this to you again, but throughout the world of things funded by the public purse, people have had to do more for less. On the whole, in the public sector, that means fewer people delivering more efficiently. That does not appear to have happened; in fact, you overspent," Hodge said, addressing royal household officials who, along with Her Majesty's Treasury, are charged with overseeing the taxpayer money.

Transcripts of exchanges between MPs and palace officials were released with the report.

"I do not understand why you did not cut back your expenditure to live within your means," Hodge said, as part of a discussion with Sir Alan Reid, the royal household's Keeper of the Privy Purse.

The royal family's annual costs are met partly through public money under a funding system called the Sovereign Grant. This grant, according to the report, will rise to around $63 million for 2014-2015.

In reply to a question from committee member Nick Smith about the increased cost of using the queen's helicopter - from $1.9 million in 2007-2008 to $2.6 million in 2012-2013 - despite overall "reduced travel costs in recent years," Reid said: "The helicopter has replaced the amount of fixed-wing aircraft we were using, so you will see a compensating saving of £500,000 (about $828,200) in what has been spent there."

The report arrived on a day when Britain's Office for National Statistics released data showing that the economy has now grown for four consecutive quarters, and that for 2013, gross domestic product expanded at its quickest pace in six years. The British economy grew 1.9% for the year, its best performance since 2007, when GDP increased 3.4%.

The committee also noted that more needed to be done to address what the Labour MP Alan Mitchell, in a question to Reid, referred to as Buckingham Palace's "crumbling surroundings." Buckingham Palace in the queen's main London residence.

"Clearly the buildings are not actually falling down," Reid quickly shot back.

That was followed by comments from Richard Bacon, another MP on the committee, who said: "The wall as you walk in through the main gates of Buckingham palace was. I remember walking under it and it being explained to us that the stone - I think it is from Caen in Normandy - was dropping on people, although I don't think anyone was actually hit."

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