"Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong; they are the ones to attain felicity".
(surah Al-Imran,ayat-104)
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When royalty comes under fire

There have been critical reports of the British royal family’s spending in the past. But such criticism was forgotten and details soon evaporated out of memory

The royal family of Britain is one of the most recognised institutions around the world. Its happenings are arduously followed from the Bahamas in the west to Australia and New Zealand in the east with earnest interest. As in the United Kingdom, the British royal family headed by the Queen of England is also revered in many countries. Much of that allegiance could be attributed to the fact that the historic British colonialism of the 19th and 20th centuries made the population of the colonised countries subjects of the throne of Britain. But the family’s popularity transcends to nations and people unaffected by Britain’s conquests of past centuries. Many new nations in fact host a large segment of their population that keenly puts up with royal developments.

It is not simply overseas interest that keeps the flames of this royal family burning. It is also the millions who have thronged to the UK, many drawn by the allure of this centuries-old blue-blooded family that in spite of controversies has managed to maintain its public dignity.

Many among the English see the family as a brand name that has pumped in millions of tourist dollars over the years into the British economy and that this family is indeed a ‘bargain for Britain’. The family, currently headed by Queen Elizabeth the second, is undoubtedly one of the main attracting factors for visitors to the English isles. Queen Elizabeth, who is also the sovereign head of 16 states and has been holding this post for more than 60 years, is personally viewed with admiration and adoration by many of her subjects. The 87-year old monarch, however, has had her share of controversies, none more than those following the estrangement of the late Princess Diana from her son and heir in waiting — Prince Charles. But she has weathered the storms gracefully and support for her and the monarchy remain high.

That does not, however, mean that she is not subject to scrutiny and criticism from her lawmakers and other government bodies. A recent report by the Public Accounts Committee was very critical of the royal financial affairs. The committee is a highly respected and an essential watchdog in the House of Commons of government spending. It plays a key constitutional role and boasts of a proud history as the oldest Commons committee going back to 1861. In other words, its findings often come with a bite.

Margaret Hodge, the current chairperson of the committee, levelled several charges against the royal family. They were flatly told to tighten their belts! Her committee’s report suggested ‘better planning and budget management to rebuild a sufficient level of contingency in its reserve fund to cover unforeseen demands on the Queen’s programme’.

Referring to the queen’s reserves for household expenditures as severely low, Hodge suspected the queen had ‘not been served well’ by her household accountants or by the Treasury, the arm of the government that is supposed to examine royal spending. “The household needs to get better at planning and managing its budgets for the longer term — and the Treasury should be more actively involved in reviewing what the household is doing,” she said. “We believe that the Treasury has a duty to be actively involved in reviewing the household’s financial planning and management — and it has failed to do so.”

She also suggested that the royal family consider opening up Buckingham Palace to tourists for more days during the year to boost revenue. Currently, it is reported that the palace is open to the public for only 78 days a year, drawing in approximately half a million ticket-paying visitors. “We think a little bit of a more commercial approach by those who are responsible for serving the Queen would serve her better in garnering more income,” Hodge said.

The Queen’s maintenance programme was also criticised in the report, which claimed that at least 39 per cent of royal buildings were in a deplorable state ‘with some properties in a dangerous or deteriorating condition’. More cash was needed to address the serious maintenance backlogs on ‘crumbling palaces’. Speaking to BBC, Hodge stated that “the boiler in Buckingham Palace is 60 years old”, and “the household must get a much firmer grip on how it plans to address its maintenance backlog”.

The royals’ 430-member household staff also came under fire. It charges that manpower had remained unchanged during the past seven years, a period marred by global economic downturns that had even affected the UK, resulting in massive cuts in public spending and layoffs of government employees.

There have been other critical reports of the royal family and their spending in the past. Many had made headlines for a few days and even come up for debate by the British lawmakers. At the end of the day, however, they were forgotten and the details soon evaporated out of memory.

After all, the British royal family is an age-old institution and one does not mess with tradition. Long live the Queen.

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