Buckingham Palace is not only the Queen’s official residence, where she greets visiting heads of state in its opulent state rooms, it is also a focal point for many public occasions such as the VE Day celebrations at the end of the Second World War. It also attracts millions of tourists each year to watch ceremonies such as the Changing of the Guard or witness the first kiss on the iconic balcony after a Royal wedding.
Witnessing the spectacle of such tradition, it may come as a surprise to many that behind the historic facade the palace is in fact in dire need of a major £370 million refurbishment which will take ten years to complete.
The announcement from the Treasury is bound to reopen the debate about the funding of the Royal Family, with questions being raised about whether the public should be paying.
The work will be funded by the Crown Estates through a temporary increase in the Sovereign Grant – to be precise, the Queen, who normally receives 15 per cent of the Crown Estate’s annual profit, will see this boosted to 25 per cent for the decade’s worth of repair work, before it is reduced.
The palace is owned by the nation and there can be no doubt the report from Tony Johnstone-Burt, Master of the Queen’s Household, is a bit of a shocker.
The list of essential repairs required includes boilers, electrics, heating and plumbing, some of which have not been upgraded for 60 years.
While no-one can argue that the parts of the palace seen by the public are lavish, behind the scenes it is a different story.
Much of it seems to have been fairly frugally maintained, something which might sound commendable, but like all older houses it begins to pose a potential fire risk with ageing fuse boxes and wiring facing the challenge of coping with a host of new appliances.
Mr Johnstone-Burt made his point by releasing a photograph of the palace’s trade yard electrical panel saying is it becoming more and more difficult to find spare parts.
Many ordinary householders have experienced a fright when told by workmen than the spare parts no longer exist or could perhaps be tracked down on the internet.
But Buckingham Palace is no ordinary house, it is a symbol of the nation, the Queen’s home and also happens to house a priceless collection of artworks and treasures, from prints and paintings by Leonardo Da Vinci to priceless manuscripts to diamond encrusted Fabergé eggs. If a fire broke out or pipes suddenly burst, the fallout is that these treasures could be destroyed. Surely no-one would want to see a repeat of the devastation at Windsor Castle in 1992.
Back in 2014 MPs in the Public Accounts committee levelled criticism at the Royal Household saying it was not doing enough to look after important heritage properties. That certainly seems to be the case with Buckingham Palace, arguably the most important in the land.
The palace is a national treasure, and we should treasure it.