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Maintaining the Royal Palaces

Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, reported to Parliament today that new arrangements giving the National Audit Office direct access to the accounts and records of the Royal Household have worked well. This first examination found that good value for money had been achieved from the £7.2 million a year the Royal Household spends on major property maintenance work.

Previously, the National Audit Office had reported on this expenditure based on access to the Household’s papers provided to them via the Department without being able to carry out fieldwork at the Palaces directly. The Government, responding to recommendations made by the Committee of Public Accounts, introduced new arrangements for the National Audit Office to have direct access to the Royal Household’s books and records to examine expenditure from the grant provided by the Department.

In undertaking their examination the National Audit Office received full co-operation from the staff of the Royal Household. They were able to examine all the records they requested and visited maintenance works at Buckingham Palace, St James’s Palace, Windsor Castle, the Royal Mews and Windsor Home Park.

The National Audit Office found that the Royal Household’s property maintenance programme is well organised. There are strong arrangements in place for reviewing maintenance needs and standards, and for setting priorities and measuring achievements. Virtually all of the work is awarded to contractors following competition. And the Department, who provide most of the money, use independent experts to review the Royal Household’s plans. Together these features point firmly towards the achievement of value for money.

The National Audit Office examined 16 large projects in detail, representing nearly 60 per cent of the major project expenditure in 1998-99. Overall, the Royal Household have contained their expenditure within the limits set by the Department, although performance in delivering individual projects to time and cost was variable. On six of the 14 completed projects examined, there were cost increases of over £5,000 or delays of over a month. The two main causes were: structural work identified once projects started and areas were opened up; and decisions to add minor maintenance work to projects, to minimise disruption to the Palaces. It is important to recognise that the Palaces are historic buildings making it particularly difficult to determine the extent of work required until existing surfaces have been removed. Also, the Palaces are working buildings in daily use, placing constraints on when work may be carried out.

The National Audit Office made recommendations which relate primarily to ways in which the Department monitor the Household’s performance, which the Department and the Royal Household have accepted: on improving the Department’s monitoring of expenditure from the grant; on better verification by the Department of the amount of income from visitor receipts available to supplement the grant; and on extending performance reporting by the Royal Household to cover the large number of small projects.

"I am very pleased to be able to present this first report of its kind and I am grateful to the Royal Household for their full co-operation. They are managing this work well."

Sir John

Notes for Editors

 

Property Services in the Occupied Royal Palaces in England are funded by a grant-in-aid from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The grant was £15.8 million in 1998-99; in 1999-2000 and for the next two years it is set at £15 million. The largest area of expenditure funded by the grant-in-aid is major property maintenance (£7.2 million in 1998-99). In addition, the grant-in-aid funds minor maintenance, utilities, and other property related costs.

 

The Occupied Royal Palaces are: Buckingham Palace; Buckingham Palace Mews and Gardens; St James's Palace; Clarence House and Marlborough House Mews; Kensington Palace - residential areas; Hampton Court Mews and Paddocks; Windsor Castle; Windsor Castle Royal Mews: and Windsor Home and Great Parks - some buildings.

 

Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website at https://www.nao.org.uk/ Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.

 

The Comptroller and Auditor General, Sir John Bourn, is the head of the National Audit Office employing some 750 staff. He and the NAO are totally independent of Government. He certifies the accounts of all Government departments and a wide range of other public sector bodies; and he has statutory authority to report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and other bodies have used their resources.

 

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