Indy’s coup against royal secrecy

Friends and foes alike of the monarchy (and there are plenty of both in Slugger I’m certain) will be keen to learn many more baroque details of the Palace’s never-ending claims for more public spending on crumbling palaces, thanks to a long running FOI campaign by the Indy. The Government have 35 days to comply with the new Information Commissioner’s ruling ordering disclosure at last, in the teeth of silent but fierce royal opposition for many years. As scores of the tight-assed begging memos between palace and government tumble into the light for our pleasurable annoyance, the Indy should gets the full credit it deserves from the rest of Her Majesty’s Press – assuming the Palace doesn’t take the appeal route to a tribunal and finally to the Justice Secretary, which seems somehow infra dig. Arguments for fuller disclosure are that the Queen is a public official like all the others; arguments against are that she’s in a captive position unlike any other and isn’t easily subject to performance and efficiency measurement.(though the National Audit Office seem to disagree). Viewers who managed to stick with the excruciating C4 series The Queen are already fully briefed on how moolah has been a constant royal gripe for the past 57 years. We’re not there yet but the full cost of monarchy is gradually emerging. 69 p per head is a quoted PR-sounding figure but all bets are off when the royal settlement comes up for renegotiation in 2010. Now it’s all too easy to go all (small “r”) republican about this but that’s not where the British people are at, just now. As far as I know, Sandringham and Balmoral are not eligible because they are private property. Surely the way to deal with them is to open Windsor Castle, Kensington , St James and Buckingham Palaces much more and allow whole wings of them to be privately hired out as conference centres or used by government, like Holyrood, Hampton Court and our own little Hillsborough. (I admit it, I’m fascinated by this stuff) . Her Maj may value he privacy. But can she continue have to both ways any longer?

From the Indy story
“Palace officials admit they are still locked in a battle with Whitehall after the DCMS rejected a request for extra funds to repair the crumbling royal palaces, leaving the Queen in despair at her “patch and mend monarchy”. The backlog in essential maintenance is estimated at £40m, but staff have been given just £15m for the year.

The Queen is also negotiating with the Government over an increase in the Civil List. But MPs and taxpayers’ groups want a greater say in how the Royal Family is subsidised after a string of scandals over public money being spent on minor roles.

This year it emerged that £250,000 had been spent on redecorating Princess Beatrice’s university accommodation. The cash helped redecorate a private four-bed apartment at St James’s Palace for her use while she is a student. Last year Prince and Princess Michael of Kent were made to pay rent of £120,000 a year to stay in their Kensington Palace apartment, after almost seven years of paying only a nominal fee.”

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

  • The Raven

    I’d like to move away from the monarchy/republic debate, if I may and concentrate on the thrust of this piece – the cost of the palaces. I don’t really want to get into the “Queen should pay up” debate, or what’s private and what’s public in terms of the property themselves.

    As part of my work, I’ve been very privileged to get a look round some of the crumbling ruins around Northern Ireland. And frankly I – and many of the tradespeople I would work with – looked with envy for years at how they valued their built heritage across the water. We also looked with pure disgust at the absolute lack of regard for the same here.

    £250k renovations for Bea’s apartment is probably quite stomach-churning for some. Bear in mind that the restoration of a mere door can be £2000. Restoring a yard of intricate, original cornicing – £500. Fixing a sash window – £1000. And no matter what you may feel – you don’t put up woodchip wallpaper in these places, and double-glazing only kills the building.

    I pretty much don’t care what it costs to keep these buildings in pristine condition. I’ve been around the public part of Windsor. It’s superb. The glass edifices which are thrown up around Northern Ireland and elsewhere depreciate to the price of salvageable steel after 25 years.

    Buildings like the palaces, and others, are inestimable treasures in terms of built heritage. Thinking more broadly, those treasures are worth even more in terms of town/cityscape value, even if you only tot up how many North Americans pay to see them.

    If it had been up to me, I’d have released the amounts in question, and followed them up with the cost of the full repair bill. Whatever it is, it’s a drop in the ocean. There are other places to make efficiencies. NIEA here should take note and lessons from across the water.

    By the way. I’m sure everyone is well aware that new builds don’t attract VAT; restoration work does. Perhaps the National Audit Office isn’t aware of that particular gem…

  • Nice one, Brian!

    This thread’ll be a doozie. Watch and see.

  • The Raven @ 10:57 PM:

    Forgive me: Buck House is an offensively ugly edifice: it would make a decent five-star hotel, perhaps. Windsor (as well as Balmoral, but that one doesn’t count) is kitsch: much of it is nineteenth- and twentieth-century pseudo. Holyrood is occupied one week a year. Quite frankly, if we have to cough up mega-spondulicks to “restore” anything, these granges come a long way down any objective list.

    How many houses does an elderly lady need?

    What about a royal boot-sale to tide them over? The royals send nothing to Oxfam: only Christie’s is good enough. Think what lumber there must be in those attics: worth a few bob in a sellers’ market.

    Now, consider. Margaret’s jewellery (much of it tawdry tosh, some of it extracted from former colonies out of gratitude for a “visit”) raised £9 million. A hedgehog brooch (valued at £50) sold for … gulp … £5,760:

    Sing a sang o’ tax and woe,
    Empty pooches in a row,
    The Chancellor’s collectin’ dough
    A’ fa …

    Yeah, on reflection, I think I’d be less of a (small “r”) republican if I could be convinced there was a modicum of intelligence, decency and old-fashioned “taste” there to be respected.

  • The Raven

    Yeah but Malcolm, I refer you to the first part I wrote. My specific issue isn’t monarchy related.

    As for “objective” list…what do YOU feel should be kept and what should be done away with? Perhaps you want to get into a debate about what is and isn’t vernacular in terms of building style. Schloss Neuschwanstein is only around 150 years old. Perhaps that should be tumbled? Little ole Lissan House, sure that’s just a ruin, nothing to be gained from it. Same for all that Dunluce shite. Similarly what madness that anyone who owns their own listed home should dare to apply to NIEA for grant assistance.

    Windsor may be kitsch. It also maybe the result of hundreds of years of building styles. Buckingham and Balmoral are still well over 100 years old and reflect the same “mix” of styles, though less so than Windsor. I have four friends who are time-served restoration workers, both in terms of building and content at sites like these. One, from West Belfast, ironically, was trained after the Windsor fire. Many continue to be so trained in such places.

    Divorce yourself from whatever issue you have with the monarchy and their “ownership” and reconsider. Again, I say it, there are efficiencies to be made elsewhere. This is drop-in-the-ocean stuff.

    By the by, the Oxfam remark. What’s more criminal? The fact that they sold the jewellry, or the fact that, for example, my local Sainsbury throws out just under half a tonne of food each week, rather than sending the best-befores to local homeless shelters or school canteens?

    But we’re rather getting off the point.

  • Has anyone done a time series of % of GNP / % of tax take spent solely on the monarchy?

    Does anyone really want to see bankers and civil servants spending thousands of pounds to say they attended a conference on bugger all at Buck House?

    Is this a case of not much money in the scheme of things attracting disproportionate attention, particularly since the monarchy is an income source as well as a cost centre for HMG?

  • regimental 1912

    To broaden the debate,what do the Roman Catholic community having their hard earned cash used to house pedo’s and keep a nazi in the life of luxury

  • Panic, these ones like it up em.

    Privatise the monarchy !

    Nationalise the monarchy !

    Sell it to the Americans or the ones with the money the Chinese !

    To be honest I do not know what to do with it.

    I imagine it makes a lot of money for Britain but one thing that is “definite” this is not the time(or for the forseable future) to expect the ordinary Joe/Josephine to foot the bill for the refurbishment of crumbling palaces.

    The Banks should adopt the Monarchy and its crumbling palaces and the Banks penance should be to look after the Monarchy and the crumbling palaces.

    Sure if it all goes tits up the Banks would still have the equity.

    Ye know it makes sense.

  • The Raven @ 12:05 AM:

    I’m wholly in favour of “restoration” as a desirable general practice, even at public expense. The St Pancras scheme involved squillions of public money well-spent, which was then handed over to a private company.

    As for priorities: choose between the 13th century vitrines of Salisbury Cathedral or Aston Webb’s 1913 façade for Buck House. Which most definitively represents English patrimony? Which gets the tax gelt and which requires jumble sales? And why?

    Your thrust about Schloss Neuschwanstein is neat. Annually that pretentious jerry-built pile pulls 1⅓ million tourists, on a maintenance cost to the Bavarian government of about €100K (less the occasional film deal). Those tourists are not dissuaded by the lack of royals in residence.

    You are quite correct in proposing that a large part of my objection is the royal “ownership”. My feeling is that UK plc is now a small island, currently moored adjacent to — but not of — Europe, with intent to go “off-shore” in the style of the Caymans. Its monarchy, though, still mimics obsolete imperial pretensions. Why does privatisation not extend thus far? Why should the State underwrite the flummeries of “official” openings of each and every significant project, naming and launching? If an occasion or an event has to pay the costs of policing, why not put the royal on the same bill, as another state employee? After all, “Rent-a-Kent” seemed to show the way.

    Anyway, to my loyal fans: seasonal greetings or “Bah, humbug!”, whichever you will.

  • Panic, these ones like it up em.

    Anyway catholics should not have to pay diddly squat to a monarchy that allows particular discrimination against catholics.

    If there are those that want to maintain the delapidated palaces of a bigoted institution then pay up.

    I am not for deluxe housing the representatives of bigotry.

  • The Raven

    “Annually that pretentious jerry-built pile pulls 1⅓ million tourists, on a maintenance cost to the Bavarian government of about €100K (less the occasional film deal). Those tourists are not dissuaded by the lack of royals in residence.”

    And it is not my argument that there should be royals in residence, as has been neatly sidestepped in your urgency to target Mrs Windsor.

    “Which most definitively represents English patrimony?”

    There are as many which probably represent many other forms of patrimony which I resent. As I said – I don’t care.

    “Anyway catholics should not have to pay diddly squat to a monarchy that allows particular discrimination against catholics.”

    My money regularly goes to funding a whole range of listed buildings across many denominations. I really don’t care who’s in them. Not as much as some appear to, anyway.

    What was that about the Irish blogosphere and a lack of maturity….?