The Queen has been awarded a 66% pay rise to fund a £369 million lasting 10 years refurbishment of Buckingham Palace, after the prime minister and chancellor agreed that an increase in the sovereign grant was the best way to fund urgent repairs.
Officials warned there was a risk of a potential “catastrophic building failure” if the repairs were not carried out, but backbench Labour and Scottish National party politicians questioned why the monarch was getting so much more money at a time of austerity.
The refurbishment, the biggest undertaken on the property since the second world war, will renew the palace’s 33-year-old boilers, 100 miles of electrical cable, some of it 60 years old, and 20 miles of lead and cast iron pipework.
The Queen will not move out; it had been previously thought she would.
Labour’s MP for Stockton North, Alex Cunningham, said the plans highlighted the disparity in public funding between the south of England and the north-east. “I have always respected the fact that we have a royal family, but I know they also have vast wealth and I don’t know what sort of contributions they will be making towards this project,” he said.
SNP MP Paul Monaghan said it was incredible that the government was ready to spend such large sums on Buckingham Palace while seeking to cut the number of Scotland’s MPs from 59 to 53 in part to save money.
Another SNP MP Hannah Bardell said: “The irony is just today the Tory government was debating whether to cut the number of elected representatives in a cost-saving measure. While steps should be taken to maintain and restore such buildings, I’m sure many will find it hard to grasp the millions available to restore Buckingham Palace when Tory cuts are leaving the poorest in our society to suffer.
“The Tories should have brought this matter to the House so the details can be properly scrutinised and debated, rather than making it to the press”.
Once the most urgent work has been completed, further work will be undertaken on a wing-by-wing basis, beginning with the familiar east wing, which faces the Mall.
By phasing the work over 10 years from April 2017, events such as the garden parties, investitures, state visits and changing the guard will be unaffected.
The announcement comes at a time when MPs are considering a £4bn plan for renovations and repairs at the Palace of Westminster.
Royal officials said the refurbishment would “future-proof” Buckingham Palace. Tony Johnstone-Burt, master of the Queen’s household, said: “On completion of the work, we’ll have a palace fit for purpose until 2067.”
David Gauke, the chief secretary to the Treasury, said ministers would hold the royal household to account to ensure “every penny spent achieves the greatest value for money”.
The sovereign grant is the funding formula under which the Queen normally receives 15% of the annual profit from the crown estate. The trustees recommend she receive 25% for the 10 years the work is taking place and the grant should be returned to 15% when building work is finished in 2027.
Conscious of the possibility of adverse public reaction to the enormous cost in times of austerity, one source indicated it was hoped it would appeal to peoples’s “sense of nationhood”.
Though the palace is the venue for glittering state occasions, royal officials have long complained of the crumbling building and the need for it to be updated. Examples include a chunk of masonry falling from the front facade several years ago and narrowly missing the Princess Royal’s car and staff reportedly resorting to catching rainwater in buckets to save art works. Last year, when a workman tried to carry out repairs to the Queen’s private chain-pull toilet, the whole structure reportedly came away from the wall.
The Queen spends one third of her working year at Buckingham Palace, which is effectively her administrative headquarters, even though it is her least favourite royal residence. Dating back to the 17th century, the palace has 775 rooms, including 19 state rooms, 52 royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices and 78 bathrooms. First used as a palace by Queen Victoria, it has not been redecorated since 1952.
About 300 staff work in the palace and up to 125 will move into temporary accommodation in the garden during the refurbishment. Among fixtures and fittings to be replaced will be 5,000 light fittings and 2,500 radiators.
The occupied royal palaces are held in trust for the nation and are not owned by the Queen, with the cost of maintaining them borne by the taxpayer. The royal household has been criticised in the past by MPs on the public accounts committee for “not looking after nationally important heritage properties adequately”.
Helen Goodman, Labour MP and member of the Treasury committee, said the timing of the announcement was bad. “The government has stopped providing grants for the building of social housing to rent and yet can give a straightforward grant to Buckingham Palace,” she said.
Graham Smith, of anti-monarchy campaign Republic, described the cost as an absolute disgrace. “The obvious question is why have the royals let it get into this state? Why haven’t they raised revenue through opening up all year round? If the royals can’t look after the buildings and raise their own revenue to fund maintenance it’s time to give them up.
Source: The Guardian