In mid-November, it was declared that Buckingham Palace, the 300-year-old house of administration and residence for Queen Elizabeth II, is to undergo a decade long process of reparation, which has been nicknamed by the media as a ‘face-lift’. Whilst those against the funding of such a programme have begun protests as well as a petition in opposition to the move, the decision has received cross-party parliamentary support. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell referred to the palace as a ‘national monument’ and stressed the vitality of keeping it in good condition.
Perhaps the greatest fact which those hostile to the plans have overlooked, is that the work to be carried out on Buckingham Palace is taking place for purposes of maintenance, rather than being a decorative scheme. The aims listed have included replacing damaged pipes, cables, and roofing: procedures that are as much a matter of safety as they are a matter of preserving a historic building. Anyone who has lived in one home for a number of years would fully understand the fact that taking swift decisive action to fix an existing household problems sooner rather than later can save lots of money in the long term.
In addition to this, the claims that the Queen is not contributing to the expense of the upkeep are simply not true. The money spent on maintaining the palace is not being raised as a newly introduced sum, levied upon the taxpayer, but rather is part of a cooperative financial scheme which has existed between the crown and the government which has worked successfully over the course of the last five years. Buckingham Palace is one of only five residences that were guaranteed protection in the 2011 Sovereign Grant Act, which also stated ‘In exchange for this public support, The Queen surrenders the revenue from The Crown Estate to the government which for 2014-15 was £285.1 million.’
When looking at the situation in economic terms, royal upkeep remains one of the government’s smallest spending programmes, accounting for less than 0.005 percent of annual expenditure. As well as this, Brand Finance, the business valuing organisation, estimated the monarchy’s net contribution to the UK economy for 2015 alone amounted to £1.155 billion. If it succeeds in generating the same revenue this year, the proposed £369 million budget being put forward for the palace’s renovation, could be paid back to the taxpayer in as little as four months.
From a conservationist point of view, it must also be remembered that there are many priceless artefacts and pieces artwork within the palace walls, many of which are open for visitors to come and see. Failing to maintain adequate plumbing bears a flood hazard that that could do immeasurable harm to such items. In the grand scheme of things, both the current government and previous governments have always striven hard to protect heritage sites across Britain, subsidising organisations such as English Heritage and the work they do to keep structures such as castles and cathedrals in the best possible order. It seems illogical that, when the same process takes place in Buckingham, it generates complaint, simply because of the palace’s dual role as a tourist attraction and a crown institution.
Ultimately, it is impressive that this is the first time that Buckingham Palace has needed refurbishing since the 1950s, and it is an operation which is entirely appropriate during the current state of affairs. Data from the statistics and research body Ipsos MORI suggests that 76 percent of the British public support the monarchy. The Queen, therefore, has an important function in creating a stable sense of unity across the UK, particularly after the bitter divisions that have emerged since the result of the EU referendum. The cost of the improvements made to Buckingham Palace are a price well worth paying for, in order to maintain the headquarters of an influential yet politically neutral head of state.