We don't do cheap, say aides - as Royal costs reach £37m

THE Royal Family's travel costs jumped 10 per cent to £5.5 million last year, with aides admitting they were not seeking to keep a "low-cost monarchy".

Buckingham Palace's accounts revealed yesterday that the overall cost to taxpayers of keeping the monarchy rose by 4.2 per cent to 37.4 million in the last financial year.

Travel expenses accounted for a significant part of the rise - one trip to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and India by Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, cost 304,000.

The accounts showed the taxpayer paid 400,000 for wine and spirits for the Queen's cellars, while 300,000 was spent on a new kitchen for Windsor Castle after "various hygiene risks" were identified.

The figures sparked accusations that the Royal Family was guilty of "Victorian largesse" and raised questions about what was gained from their foreign trips. Senior aides said the Royal Family was fully aware that it was spending taxpayers' money, but added that certain costs were inevitable.

Alan Reid, the Keeper of the Privy Purse, said: "Our key aim is not to try and achieve a low-cost monarchy. What we're really after is trying to achieve a high-quality and very efficient monarchy."

The report pointed out that the Royal Family had about 2,700 official engagements across the UK and overseas last year.

Officials said the overall cost of travel had been reduced by 76 per cent after inflation over the past nine years. However, the financial report added: "It is not envisaged that royal travel expenditure will reduce further."

Questions were raised about the Duke of York's trips. He spent more than 355,000 on a series of visits to destinations including Bermuda, Thailand, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

It also emerged he spent 33,405 to charter a plane for two days to travel between Bangkok and the resorts of Hua Hin and Phuket - the latter is less than a two-hour flight from the Thai capital, with scheduled economy-class return flights available for about 80 return.

But an aide said a tight timescale meant Prince Andrew had not been able to take a scheduled flight to visit the king of Thailand and then travel on to provide "support and encouragement" to British volunteers in tsunami-struck Phuket.

On another trip to China, the prince spent 91,646 for a series of flights between Beijing, Xian, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Both visits to the Far East were among several trips Prince Andrew took on behalf of UK Trade and Investment, a government organisation. A spokesman for the agency insisted he had brought "valuable support and visibility to the UK's activities in international trade" since being appointed as a special representative.

Prince Andrew also spent 11,555 to fly from the Isle of Man to St Andrews for a meeting of former captains of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club.

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, said: "We have a Royal Family that spends money and behaves in terms of its largesse, as if it was Victorian times and not the 21st century.

"The royal travel budget includes journeys which are dubious at best, such as Prince Andrew flying by helicopter to a golf club at St Andrews."

During the year, the Royal Family made 14 journeys on the Royal Train, compared with 19 in 2004-5. They made 48 journeys by scheduled rail services. The accounts disclosed that a consultant had been appointed to look at the Royal Train and that some initial savings had been identified.

The report described the use of helicopters, with overall costs averaging more than 4,200 an hour, as "a highly efficient and cost-effective travel option".

The cost of new security measures at Buckingham Palace came to about 150,000. These were put in place after a tabloid newspaper reporter managed to go undercover to get a job as a footman in 2003 in the run-up to an official visit by George Bush, the US president.

Utilities for the royal properties totalled 2 million, with about 1 million spent on catering and hospitality - including 600,000 for garden parties.

"Other expenditure" met directly by government departments, includes administration of the honours systems which cost 500,000, with the Royal Family's communications departments running up a similar bill, and maintenance of the Palace of Holyroodhouse, state visits and ceremonial occasions.

Buckingham Palace pointed out that the total cost of the Queen and the Royal Family to the taxpayer was 62p per person last year.

But campaigners estimated the true annual cost of the Royals was in excess of 37.4 million and closer to 100 million when security, lost tax revenue and expenses to local authorities hosting visits were taken into account.

Graham Smith, the campaigns manager of Republic, which is pushing for an elected head of state, said: "The idea pushed by the royal PR machine is that the Royals should be seen as hard-working ambassadors who earn their keep. Instead, they seem more like lottery winners who hit the jackpot every week.

"They're obviously not trying to keep costs down. I don't see what we get out of any of their trips, and there's no accountability."

But Thomas Kerr, of the Edinburgh and Lothians branch of the Constitutional Monarchy Association, said: "The Queen has been told to penny-pinch as much as she can, and the Crown Estate gives many more millions to the Chancellor each year than we pay out. The taxpayer is getting a very, very good deal."

The Prince of Wales revealed earlier this week that he paid 3.3 million in tax on his 14 million income, but royal accountants said there were no plans to publish similar details for the Queen.

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