Pay rises within the Royal household have been slammed by MPs, after it was revealed that one senior member enjoyed a £7,000 boost in his annual salary while those on more modest wages had suffered a pay freeze.
Speaking at the Public Accounts Committee, Margaret Hodge grilled Sir Alan Reid, the Queen’s Keeper of the Privy Purse, over use of the Sovereign Grant, the annual disbursement from the public purse to the Royal Household.
Palace expenses were questioned by MPs
Hodge also highlighted a huge increase in gas use (14%), as well as a hike in electricity bills (3%). Yet is was the salary increases that appeared to rile Hodge most, with the veteran MP probing Reid about the why senior staff had given themselves "extra money" when "they were expecting staff on £21,000 not to have extra money".
Hodge said: "It strikes me as being not a very good message for a public organisation to freeze the wages of its staff, from a very low level - from £21,000, and then to see the top management award themselves (a rise)...I have no doubt you can justify them but...seems to me not a very good message at a time of constraints."
In response, Reid said that his pay (£180,000) along with that of Sir Christopher Geidt (£146,000), the Queen’s Private Secretary, had been frozen for the last financial year.
However, it was revealed that Lieutenant Colonel Sir Andrew Ford, the Comptroller and head of the Lord Chamberlain's office, had been awarded by £7,000 pay increase to £116,000 for taking on extra responsibility of organising travel for the Royal house. Air Marshal Sir David Walker also enjoyed a hike in pay, from £120,000 to £122,000.
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Mike Stevens, the Queen's deputy treasurer, said: "Underpinning these increases, over the five years since 2007-08, the household's pay bill has reduced by 6% in real terms."
Hodge added: "They just went up, they're not massive amounts on what they earn, but if you're on £21,000 another £2,000 is a 10% increase...going up from 109 (thousand) to 116 (thousand) - £7,000 is a heck of an increase."
Answering questions relating to the rise in utility bills Stevens suggested the increase could largely be blamed on cold weather. But he added: "This is an area that we will wish to look at ways in which we can reduce.
"One of the areas in which the Sovereign Grant (money) will be applied will be the replacement of boilers in the main palaces which are nearing the end of their useful life. One of the key projects of the next 15 years will be refurbishment of Buckingham Palace. Heating systems there are antiquated. They are over 60 years old and they don't lend themselves to efficient use of energy."
Reid also defended the way the Royals sourced energy, explaining that while the Household did not "fix" its bill, it set up multi-year deals to obtain power from the wholesale markets.
Hodge also questioned the schedule of a recent trip by the Duke of York to south-east Asia and America, and who picked up his expenses bill. She said: "It looked as if in a three-week trip there was a little bit of work, which was very important public work, but there was quite a lot of holiday - nobody denies him the right to have his holiday - and quite a lot of family time, again really important."
Reid said all official overseas trips made by the royals were approved by the royal visits committee and Stevens added that the Duke's visit to Indonesia was approved by the committee and its costs would be paid for by the Sovereign Grant, while the other elements of his trip were either funded by other organisations or privately by Andrew.
Hodge asked Reid whether it was sensible having a royal train, and he replied: "I think for the time being. The rolling stock is very old indeed and it probably doesn't have too many more years of life." He added: "I think it's from 1970, if not older, the decor is very G Plan, which is either 60s or 70s, and it is not luxurious by any stretch of the imagination, but it does offer a very safe and secure and effective way, particularly as the Queen's got older, of having her go up the country in order to do engagements first thing the next morning."
Reid said he thought the royal train had "five to 10 years life left" and they would continue with it as long as the current rolling stock was working, but it would then be a "major" decision to have a new royal train, adding: "I think the numbers would be quite staggering."
Stevens, the Queen's deputy treasurer, was questioned about claims the Palace employed people on "zero hours" contracts, where someone is not guaranteed work but is expected to remain available. He said: "The staff who were employed for this year's summer opening of Buckingham Palace were employed on a contract described as, and it may be semantics, as and when required.
"The reason they were put on those contracts was to give us flexibility from the point of view of rostering, in what is a very busy period." He added: "All of those staff worked in excess of 35 hours a week." He said people working during next year's summer opening would work a guaranteed 35-hour week.