The Queen is facing a tough inquiry into her finances and expenses by the most powerful watchdog in government, it emerged last night.
By Richard Alleyne12:40AM GMT 09 Feb 2013
The Public Accounts Committee is expected to launch an investigation into whether the monarch and the Royal Family provide value for money to the taxpayer.
The inquiry, which will look at every aspect of the Queen’s expenditure including the cost of transport, is likely to cause concern in Buckingham Palace because of the PAC’s reputation for grilling civil servants if it deems they have misused public funds.
The Queen’s closest aides can expect a particularly rough ride by MPs about whether the Royal Family is providing value for taxpayers’ money.
The amount of public funds going to the Royal Family soared last year, despite Government cuts.
The investigation follows a change in the law which, for the first time, gives MPs oversight of royal finances.
The PAC, chaired by the former Labour minister Margaret Hodge, will decide on the scope of any inquiry after the National Audit Office is granted access to the Queen’s finances next month, according to a report in the Independent.
Auditors will produce a report on their findings which will then be scrutinised by the committee who will decide whether to call palace officials to give evidence.
Committee sources indicated that this was likely to happen.
“Margaret wants to do it – but obviously it’s got to be a decision of the whole committee,” a source told the newspaper.
“I’m all in favour of it,” said Austin Mitchell, a Labour MP who sits on the committee. “It’s not intrusive. It is about ensuring that the public are getting good value for money.
“At the moment there is no accountability for spending what is a considerable fortune.”
Among the areas the committee is expected to examine are transport costs including the Royal Train and the Royal Flight, as well as money spent on official entertaining and the upkeep of palaces.
Money given to junior royals to support their work backing up the Queen will also be scrutinised while the committee may also want to examine whether Buckingham Palace is doing enough to raise money itself by selling the royal brand.
For example while Buckingham Palace now opens to paying visitors during the summer some have argued it should be open all year round.
Two of the Queen’s other castles, Balmoral and Sandringham, have no public access at all – despite their multimillion-pound maintenance costs.
The change has come about after George Osborne scrapped the Civil List – an annual handout to the Royal Family that has had to be approved by Parliament since 1760 – in favour of paying the Monarch 15 per cent of the income from the Crown Estates as a new “Sovereign Grant”.
Crown Estate assets include Regent Street in London, Ascot racecourse and Windsor Great Park, 265,000 acres of farmland, as well as ownership of our national seabed stretching out 12 nautical miles around Britain.
The Estate’s profits have been paid to the Treasury and taxpayers since 1760, after George III handed the Crown’s property to the state in return for an annual fee to support his duties.
In April Buckingham Palace will receive £36.1m to fund the Queen’s official duties, a 16 per cent increase on the £31m paid by taxpayers last year.