The Queen already has her financial house in order

Why the finger pointing around royal expenses is misdirected

(Sang Tan/AP Photo)

Queen Elizabeth II is “down to her last million,” her palaces are crumbling because her courtiers can’t control spending, she’s only saved five per cent of her budget, compared to government departments that have slashed up to a third. Those were some of the criticisms being lobbed at the Queen this week. Labour MP Margaret Hodge, the chairman of the House of Commons committee looking into royal household accounts says it needs to “get a grip” on the situation. “I don’t think we’d accuse anybody of profligacy but, what we are saying, is that we don’t think the Queen is served well either by the royal household or, indeed, by the Treasury,” Hodge told the BBC.

Those juicy sound bites echoed around the world, seemingly pointing out mismanagement on such an epic scale that the only solution was to throw a royal flunky or two into the Tower of London. Except, dig down into the data, and an entirely different picture emerges. One that politicians such as Hodge conveniently ignore in their rush to make headlines. In 1991-92, royal household expenditures were 77.3 million pounds. By 2010-11, that had plummeted to 32.1 million pounds (in 2010-11 prices), according to a Treasury briefing document.

First, some background. In 1990, the government fixed the cost of the Civil List, which covers Elizabeth’s costs as head of state and head of the Commonwealth and is largely spent on salaries, at 7.9 million pounds per annum for the next decade. The costs are largely spent on salaries; the Queen gets nothing for herself. When the Civil List funding came up for review in 2000, then prime minister Gordon Brown decided not to change the amount for another 10 years. Twenty years of frozen funding meant the original budget had been cut in half by inflation.

Yet, the Civil List budget was still in the black, largely because of a complete financial and organizational makeover that began with the appointment of David Ogilvy as lord chamberlain in 1984. Sure he’s got a title, 13th earl of Airlie and his sister-in-law is Princess Alexandra, the Queen’s cousin, but he also has a first-class mind and realized the palaces needed to be radically reorganized to increase efficiency. A 1,383-page report containing 188 recommendations was created. “Get on with it,” was the Queen’s reaction, Ogilvy told author Robert Hardman, whose 2012 book, Our Queen, minutely examined the changing monarchy and royal household. (And note the timing: this all started a half decade before the scandalous early 1990s, when critics stridently told the royal family to pay for more of their official duties.)

By that review in 2000, so much had been trimmed by “royal cost-cutting and prudent housekeeping,” Hardman noted, that there was a surplus of 35 million pounds. However, inflation meant expenditures kept rising, reducing that cushion year by year. By 2010, everyone recognized that the system of funding the monarchy had to change. It had become massively complicated, with various government department doling out grants for palace maintenance and travel. And the most important of those funds, a 15-million pound grant to maintain royal residences hadn’t changed since the 1990s, leaving an increasingly large backlog of maintenance. It’s not like the Queen could replace heritage windows with plastic versions from Home Depot, or sell off an Old Master or two to repair the leaking roof. Requests had to go through government departments and quite often the answer was no, even though BP, as Buckingham Palace is called, hadn’t been completely rewired since 1948. In total, the funding to pay the Queen’s expenses totalled around 35 million pounds.

A new deal was in the works, and it involved another uniquely British institution, the Crown Estate. Originally created with properties seized by William the Conqueror, it ebbed and waned through the centuries in various forms, used as a cash register for monarchs to run the kingdom. In 1760 George III surrendered control of the Crown Estate to the government in return for a civil list. It turned out to be an amazingly profitable deal for the government. By 2010, profits had exploded to 231 million pounds with all surplus revenues being funnelled directly into the Treasury.

In 2011, George Osborne, chancellor of the exchequer, announced the old multi-part system would be scrapped. Official duties and expenses would be funded by 15 per cent of the profits of the Crown Estate, though the Sovereign Grant Act. “In real terms it is an around nine per cent cut over the Parliament,” Osborne admitted. Yet it would give officials the flexibility of deciding exactly where and when to spend the overall budget. So much-needed repairs to heritage buildings wouldn’t be held to the mercy of government officials and politicians, but could come from once-separate pots of financing.

And that’s the situation today. Royal officials have spent the last three decades hacking and slashing budgets. The Queen, already having hacked official expenditures by more than 50 per cent, would have to live with the much-reduced finances. The backlog of repairs would have to come from that same pool.

So to have politicians and analysts dump on the Queen, finger wagging about how she has to economize like the rest of government, is the galling. After all, their salaries and expenses have exploded, while the Queen reined in hers. For example, the prime minister’s salary quadrupled between 1990 and 2010.

And there has been scandal after scandal about members of Parliament—who can forget the politicians who thought nothing of making taxpayers pay for moat cleaning and duck houses? In 2009, the Telegraph revealed that Margaret Hodge, the same woman who told the Queen to get her palace in order, had what seemed to be thousands of pounds in dubious expenses:

Margaret Hodge, the MP for Barking, claimed more than £2,200 for “PR support” from Chilli and Spice, a firm based in Chelmsford, Essex, between May and August 2007. The company is run by Janet Coull, who worked as a press officer for Mrs Hodge when she was a junior employment minister between 1998 and 2001.

Under House of Commons rules, MPs are barred from claiming expenses for “self-promotion or PR” for individuals or political parties. Mrs Hodge insisted on Monday that she had paid Ms Coull for “articles, reports and speech writing”, not PR. However, receipts from Chilli and Spice submitted to the Commons fees office by Mrs Hodge specify that they provided “PR support”.

And a check of Hodge’s own parliamentary expenses reveals the “costs incurred by the MP in carrying out their parliamentary duties” were 165,246 pounds in 2012-13, up from 128,646 pounds in 2010-11. So while she berates the Queen, her own expenses have shot up 28 per cent in two years.

Perhaps Margaret Hodge needs to “get a grip” on her own fiscal situation.




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The Queen already has her financial house in order

  1. The UK is trying to get rid of the feudal system.

    However, Chuck’s reign will do it for them.

    • Well, if they do get rid of the constitutional monarchical system, any system that they choose to replace it will probably be worse.

      After all, all the other systems of government we have tried up till now have been.

      • Why would it be worse? We moved ‘forward’ to get to this point…..we need to KEEP moving forward.

        I realize you aren’t big on change, but c’mon…. the middle ages have been over for some time.

        • Okay, which style of government do we have that works better than a democratically elected house with a constitutional monarchy, which are shown to be very prosperous, stable and safe?

          We should definitely move to that system of government.

          • Well, I personally want a technocracy……but we won’t be using the present system forever you know….not even for the next thousand years….or hundred actually.

            It doesn’t work that well….you’re just used to it.

          • Oh the current system certainly has warts, but I haven’t seen something worth chucking the Queen out over. Show me a brand new system of government that is working better than the constitutional monarchy in another country, THEN I’ll turn on the Queen. I have no desire to experiment and just trust the revolutionaries that I won’t end up with a Cromwell, Lenin, Robespierre or Washington.

          • Bush, Hollande, Harper…..are just 3 of the monumental disasters our system has landed us with. Chuck is another.

            Which is why it won’t last.

          • Bush is not our system. Which is my point. A Canadian Prime Minister could never wrap himself in the flag of patriotism the way an American president can, and declare opposition to the government disloyal. Plus, the system they set up works far less efficiently and costs a lot more to administer. With 1/3 of the world’s prison population existing in the US, it obviously also doesn’t provide much liberty either.

            Having a monarch I can swear loyalty to while criticizing the government is a very handy tool for personal security. I am loyal to Canada because I am loyal to the Crown, no matter what Steve or Justin or Thomas are doing.

            But yes, no one can compete with time. Eventually the House of Windsor will fall and a new system of government will rise. It is however worth noting that the both of the longest running continuous government mix monarchy and democracy.

            So I say again, find me a system that is demonstrably working better in another country than our own, and I’ll be the first to pull the guillotine lever. Until then… no.

          • I was talking broadly about ‘democracy’…..you think restricting it to the Queen makes it better?

            Well if you want to be that specific….how many bad PMs has the UK had? LOL

            PS Harper did indeed wrap himself in the flag and declare the opposition ‘disloyal’….even accused them of supporting the Taliban!

            PPS The House of Windsor will fall shortly, and Wills and Harry will likely hotfoot it to Africa to live. It’s already been discussed in the UK that George will never be king.

          • Harper did, and it failed. Bush did, and it succeeded.

            I think Guantanamo Bay is a travesty and that Kadr should have been repatriated when Paul Martin was Prime Minister. If someone tries to call me disloyal to Canada as a result, then I say it cannot be true, for I am loyal to Queen Elizabeth II, long may she reign.

          • LOL a German married to a Greek and a figurehead in the UK?

          • Emily, you are so simplistic. Lizzie is not german, she is at least 50% scots, and Phil is mostly german, the greek part was a legal fiction made up after WW1. What is the purity of your genes? most brits are the most multi-ethnically derived people in the world. Every invasion of Europe since the celts, and political refugee movement since the reformation has washed up on British shores and integrated.

          • … last I checked, at least topically, France and the United States aren’t Constitutional Monarchies? The best Presidential system to compare to our system would probably be that of Ireland. After my examination of their presidential system compared to that of the U.S. or France, theirs more closely resembles ours in term of structure and directional flows of power.

          • Who would be the head of state in this technocracy, and how selected?

          • If you’re talking about the Queen…..then an elected [by the Order of Canada recipients] GG to serve for 5…. or whatever…..years.

          • Well, the reason the Queen (and the Governor General) works is because they have no mandate to govern. They rule but do not reign.

            An election process, no matter what the election process, necessarily gives the one elected a mandate and authority to wield power. If you elect a head of state, even if they are elected by a college of Order of Canada recipients, he will be a president.

            Not to mention, the Order of Canada process will become intensely political, instead of only slightly political like it is now.

          • The final result would be an appointment by the council

            However a president/pm system is in use elsewhere without there being a problem

            There wouldn’t be anything political about it. People are considered for GG right now without knowing anything about it.

            Canada has been a monarchy since the first French king, so I know how hard it will be to drag people away from it…..but if the UK terminates the monarchy, we won’t have any choice.

            You are just making up problems LOL

            Waddya gonna do when Francis turns out to be the last pope?

          • The final result will be an appointment by the council. Okay, but who appoints/elects the council? Would it function like a caucus electing a party leader? Up until very recently we had that before we had party rank and file deciding party leaders. That innovation of electing party leaders wasn’t an improvement as far as I am concerned.

            But really, there would be some sort of election process for the head of state no matter what model you choose right? My point is that separating executive power from the head of state has proved to be very useful. There are certain powers of identity and symbolism that a Prime Minister cannot assume, and that is generally a good thing for everyone.

            As for Pope Francis being the last Pope… well I guess I’d have to rethink a lot of things. Though, you aren’t suggesting that the institution of the Church, which has been around for millennial, is going to vanish in your lifetime are you? I’m pretty sure it is going to outlive me, much less you, so it is not really germane to the discussion at hand.

          • The Advisory committee to the OC selects candidates for membership….again you are just making up problems.

            As to the Vatican….yeah, it will likely end much more abruptly than you think….pope included. I was teasing you because you have such a phobia about change.

          • Not against change. I support a number of radical ideas.

            Against change based on ideology without proper planning? Oh yes. I wouldn’t be a conservative otherwise.

            The status quo is generally the status quo because it works. The 20th century is a lesson on movements determined to change the status quo and costing hundreds of millions of lives. So give me proof that your change will work better and I will make changes.

            Like G.K. Chesterton says, “I will not tear down a fence because you say it serves no purpose. Tell me what purpose it serves, and I will consider tearing it down.”

            In other words, I know that the monarchy provides some real and tangible benefits. If you can tell me what those benefits are, and find me a substitute that works better, then I will consider turning into a traitor and getting rid of the monarchy.

            As to the Vatican, if it collapses it will be interesting enough to be worth a little disillusionment. But the Church will survive in some form as long as I’m alive at least. Since my hair is brown and yours is not, you can rest assured that the Church will outlive you. ;)

          • LOL You’re a farmer, a monarchist and a devout catholic

            You might as well be living in the middle ages as a serf.

            The stone age was the status quo for thousands of years…..we didn’t do it because it worked….because obviously it didn’t….we just didn’t have anything else. We have lots of options now.

            Not all of them are good….and some are better than what we have now. You’re simply afraid to move. To rock the boat.

            A traitor…..snort.

            Francis could get the ‘holy pillow’ tomorrow, so don’t worry about my life span.

          • Well, serfs had a better standard of living than a lot of people in the urban ghettos today. You are correct that we shouldn’t go back to those legal institutions of feudalism . But that also means just because something is newer, doesn’t mean it is better.

            But yes, I do like the fact that I am a man of “steady” nature, even if it makes me a serf in your eyes. Why should I give up my conservative principles which have given me wealth from my ancestors, a happy and stable home life, and good health. What can you offer me if I cast aside my principles and ways of doing things and embrace yours?

            Sometimes things are going in the wrong direction. Sometimes the person who is most progressive, is the one that turns around and goes backwards first. ;)

            I don’t worry about moving forward. Like I said, show me the changes work and I’ll make those changes. But vague ideological sentiments like “The Queen is an affront to democratic principles even though she is cheap and effective” is not really a rallying cry for me. Not rocking the boat is very sensible if you don’t want to overturn the boat.

          • Serfs had no standard of living at all. In fact even ghetto residents have a better standard of living than all the kings and queens in history.

            I’m not asking you to embrace anything yanni….just don’t get in the way of those moving forward.

            The meek will inherit the earth….the rest of us are going to the stars.

          • Well, what you just said is demonstrably not true. I certainly would pick being a serf in a peaceful time over being poor and black in Baltimore or Philadelphia. In terms of diet, leisure, comfort and maybe even security, I’d be better off.

            I will agree that the middle does have a better standard of living than the Kings and Queens of history though. Heck, we almost have a better standard of living than Rockefeller, according to some measures.

            Oh, and I don’t mind you doing whatever you want. Just don’t impose your newfangled, ill-thought out system of government on me until you run field trials and prove it works. If you want to move to an island somewhere and set up your new utopia, go nuts. I will envy your success from afar, and invite you to advise me how to change when you are done.

            Insist that we have to change together, with the vague platitudes you are spouting and no real plans of how it will work, then I will resist you. But you can go over there and change on your own. Just do it over there where it doesn’t affect me. :)

          • Then you’d never have decent heating, or running water or toilets or hot coffee or a multitude of other things.

            Serfs owned nothing…..and the Lord of the Manor could whip him, rape his women, kill his children and march him off to war.

            The world has achieved what it has….because of people who thought, and risked and dared…..not because of serfs.

          • Of course I would give up a lot of technological advances. Modern medicine would be the hardest to give up, though like I said there are parts of the world when even the pre-Anasthesia, pre-Pasteur health care of the past would be better than the coverage a lot of people have now.

            As well, we have some fundamental rights that are very precious that we didn’t have, we also have given up a lot of rights as well. As well, we have to work much longer for our masters to pay our various tax obligations than medieval peasants had to work for theirs. Abuses were also a lot easier against the lower classes once technology allowed for greater military power and centralized control.

            So, if I was to choose between life as an English serf in 1175 to being poor and black in east Philadelphia or the worst neighborhoods of Detroit, I’m picking door #1. Would I change my current life for that of a nobleman in the middle ages? Hell no.

            You see, history simply wasn’t as romantic as you like to make it. It defies easy stories, and the idea that history is a march from barbaric to civilized, ignorance to enlightenment is just a story and has no basis in accepted academic circles today.

            Here is a documentary about Medieval peasants by a british comedian while inaccurate in certain places, that debunks your conception of the medieval serf in an entertaining way.

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ncwuuOub1rE

          • LOL Terry Jones is one of Monty Python’s crew….and I’ve just got through telling you history was nasty, brutish and short.

            You’re the one pining for the fijords….er….manor and the serfs, not me.

            I KNOW you’d go back to being a serf…..that’s what *I* said!

            However you can get OUT of a ghetto….serfs were serfs everywhere.

          • Actually, there was running water and underfloor heating in some parts of Europe, 2000 years ago. And please, Emily, get off the beating and raping part, Braveheart was fiction not fact

          • Yes, that would be Rome

          • Emily, you need to take a basic course in European Economis History. I think you have watched Disney’s Robin Hood too many times

          • Considering that the monarchy of Canada is a completely separate legal entity than that of the UK’s, it would make very little sense indeed if the UK scrapping their monarchy would have any impact on us, in a constitutional sense.

            The only reason our monarchs happen to be the same is because, since the creation of the separate Canadian monarchy, we decided to keep the formerly ruling monarch and family (E2R and Windsor, respectively), and attempt to co-ordinate succession laws.

            Should we decide to change the succession laws to, say, female-only primogeniture (rather than the current gender-neutral law, as of 2011, I believe), we would suddenly end up with a Queen Anne II, while the UK would have a Charles III.

          • No, that’s just one of those little legal fictions we live by….part of our mythology.

            With a lot of rubbish mixed in.

          • As you know, the GG is merely the monarch’s vice-regal representative in Canada. Who would replace the monarch as head of state in the UK?

          • I have no idea. That’s up to them. Probably the PM…..or they’ll have a president.

          • Of course, it’s up to them. But given, as I said, that our GG is merely their monarch’s vice-regal rep in Canada, their decision has implications for our system of government. Unless you’re implying that we need to end entirely our status as a constitutional monarchy, in which case anyone selected by your model becomes our president…which brings its own attendant issues.

          • I’m not a monarchist….never have been.

            I don’t know what the UK will do, nor do I care.

            And no, we don’t move to a president a la the US by default. Be serious

          • I am serious. If the nation isn’t a monarchy, it doesn’t have a GG. It’s a de facto republic, is it not? And its head of state is, by convention, a president, whether “a la the US” or not..

          • What’s with the binary thinking? Either/or stuff, black and white.

            How about something new?

            Our societies are currently run on 1700s ideas or worse!

          • You seem to be advocating throwing out the proverbial baby and the bathwater. You don’t care for monarchies or presidents.

            That’s why I’m pressing the matter. What’s the “something new” you’re proposing?

          • Presidents are fine….just not by themselves, like in the US. We need new solutions, not medieval ones.

            I want a technocracy

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technocracy

          • Government by Geeks?

          • Meritocracy.

          • I personally want my own harem, but that ain’t going to happen either.

          • Given your personality…..no.

          • Do you have an example of a functioning technocracy (presuming you mean non-democratic)?

          • That doesn’t clarify your position. As the wiki points out, technocracy or technocratic has come to mean many things. The only way to really enforce technocracy is by removing democracy.

          • Enforce? Sorry, you’re off on a tangent.

            Meritocracy, Andrew….so don’t go imagining dictators.

          • Meritocracy is not democratic, either. China’s communist party has meritocratic properties. Some democracies have a technocratic culture, like Germany, but their systems of government is still democracy.

          • And soooooooo?

          • You were not at all clear about what you’re talking about.

          • So given I use crop science, soil science, genetics and chemistry in my day to day life, along with knowledge of mechanics and commodity marketing… would I be a technocrat of agricultural production?

            Or should I be managed by a bureaucrat because I farm for a living, and therefore I am a dumb serf? For some reason you think that people who make their living from natural resources are less knowledgeable or less advanced than those who do office work for a wage, so I was wondering.

          • No, you’re a farmer. On a family farm. Not in agribusiness.

            It’s the same pretty much as being a serf….the laird doesn’t gallop through, that’s all.

  2. thats true

  3. Anyone truly rich looks bad on paper for tax purposes.

  4. There are so many better systems out there. Let’s model Egypt – no wait, let’s model Syria, no, make it Afghanistan, or maybe Argentina circa 1983, because the system we have is just so awful in comparison.

  5. Please, don’t confuse your hostilities to our present govt. (Stevenreno Harper) with your feelings about Her Majesty et. al . She and hers represent something special to Canada. That’s all.

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