Magazine article The Spectator

What It Really Costs

Magazine article The Spectator

What It Really Costs

Article excerpt

ETON, Oxford and the Guards used to be the natural route towards becoming a courtier. Now it is Eton, Oxford and Insead - the Paris business school favoured by so many of our new Establishment, such as William Hague and Archie Norman. The embodiment of the new courtier is Sir Michael Peat, Keeper of the Privy Purse, who has spent the past five years quietly reforming the royal household. The result is a monarchy that costs about the same as the `bicycling monarchies' of Europe, so admired by the Prime Minister and his acolytes.

The timely reforms have helped nip in the bud resentment that arose in the early 1990s. People are irrational when it comes to the monarchy. Visitors to Buckingham Palace find themselves strangely moved by the sound of the Foot Guards crunching about on the gravel. Their chests swell with pride as they see the red carpets and the classical paintings, hinting of all that is best about our country. Then a mean little voice chirps up inside them, saying, 'I bet this lot cost a packet. And I wonder who paid? Ordinary people like you and me, that's who.'

The little voice was in the ascendant at the start of the decade, to the point of obscuring everything else about the Queen. There was rising outcry about the cost of the royal family, the Queen not paying income tax, the grace-and-favour apartments, and so on. It culminated in the fire at Windsor, which seemed to symbolise the end of an era. If beheaded monarchs could speak from the grave, whether they be Louis XVI or Charles I, they would no doubt warn of how it all started with complaints about `fat cats'.

Sir Michael Peat was on secondment at the Palace from the City at the time. He is no ordinary accountant, wandering round the corridors with a clipboard asking footmen if they have achieved their targets. He is a sort of hereditary accountant. The P in KPMG, the multinational firm, is Peat. The firm was founded by his great-grandfather, William, in the 1870s and members of the family have worked there ever since. Sir Michael had already written a report on reforming the royal finances when at the Queen's request he joined the Palace staff. He believes that the Palace should set the highest standards, and now, when people from around the world want to know how to restore an ancient building within budget, open it up to the public, or run a large household efficiently, they turn to the Palace to find out.

The principal income that the Queen has from the government to pay for her official duties is the civil list of about L8 million, plus a further L500,000 each for the Queen Mother and the Duke of Edinburgh. The equivalent sums in Europe are slightly lower. Sweden's King Carl Gustaf receives an allowance of L7 million from the government. King Harald of Norway receives about L6 million and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands about L5 million. Queen Margrethe of Denmark receives L4.5 million, as does King Juan Carlos of Spain.

But in 2000 the civil list will come up for renegotiation, as it does every 11 years. It is likely that Sir Michael will propose to keep the allowance pegged to inflation minus 9 per cent. This means that by 2002 it will be reduced to just below the amount received by the Swedish Court and only L1 million or L2 million more than the other royal families. Bearing in mind all the costs that arise out of the Queen being Head of the Commonwealth and that Britain is a much bigger country, the differences will be neither here nor there.

The civil list is not the only cost met by the Treasury. The total paid out to the royal family will be about L40 million this year. …

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