THE QUEEN’S accounts are to be subject to full National Audit Office scrutiny and open to questioning by the Commons Public Accounts Committee, in a radical reform of royal finances unveiled by chancellor George Osborne.
Instead of the controversial Civil List and grants for royal travel and the maintenance of royal palaces, the Queen will receive a single Sovereign Grant that will equate to 15% of “surplus revenue” from the Crown Estates, which is estimated to be worth £34m in 2013-14.
Osborne said that his Sovereign Grant Bill will provide for the Sovereign Grant accounts to be audited by the comptroller and auditor general and laid before Parliament, where they will be subject to the PAC.
Public Accounts Committee chair Margaret Hodge said the move had “historic significance”, adding: “It is hugely important for the future stability of the monarchy and its role in our constitutional settlement that we should modernise our structures, so that they are fit for purpose in today’s world and properly meet the legitimate expectations of the taxpayer and the general public.”
She said: “This puts, for the first time, those parts of the royal finances that come directly from the taxpayer each year on a transparent basis, consistent with other public expenditure.
“The PAC has a long and well-established history in effective public scrutiny and we will, I am sure, approach these new responsibilities in our traditional way, working objectively and thoroughly on behalf of Parliament and the taxpayer.”
Former PAC chair Edward Leigh said the committee had, under his chairmanship and that of Hodge, fought to improve scrutiny of royal finances but added: “I never thought this day would come.”
He commented: “This will be tough for the royal household – there is no doubt about that – and there will be strong questioning in the committee, as there is on all these subjects, but that is absolutely right because that is what we are about: accountability. I think they have absolutely nothing to fear.”
Shadow chancellor Ed Balls welcomed the change and remarked that it was vital Parliament should properly scrutinise such significant sums of revenue.
Conservative economic secretary Justine Greening, an accountant, said the Bill brings accountability arrangements for the royal household into line with those for other government departments.
She commented: “Sovereign grant expenditure will be audited annually by the comptroller and auditor general and those reports will be laid before Parliament. Should it wish to do so, the Committee of Public Accounts will also be able to scrutinise grant expenditure and will be able to invite the royal household to give evidence.”
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