No one is immune from criticism

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The royal family of Britain is one of the most recognized institutions in the world. Matters related to the royal family are followed with great interest from the Bahamas in the west to Australia and New Zealand in the east. As in the UK, the British royal family headed by the Queen of England is also revered in many countries.

Much of that allegiance can be attributed to the fact that British colonialism of the 19th and 20th century made the population of the colonized countries subjects of the British throne. But the family is also popular with nations and people unaffected by Britain’s conquests in past centuries.

It is not simply overseas interest that keeps the flames of the British royal family burning. There are 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 British see the family as a brand name that has pumped millions of tourist dollars over the years into the British economy, and who believe that the family is indeed a “bargain for Britain”. The family, currently headed by Queen Elizabeth the second, is undoubtedly one of the main attractions for visitors to the United Kingdom.

Queen Elizabeth, who is also the sovereign head of 16 states and has held this post for more than 60 years, is personally viewed with admiration and adoration by many of her subjects. The 92-year-old monarch, however, has had her share of controversies, none more than those following the estrangement of Princess Diana from her son and heir in waiting Prince Charles and Diana’s tragic death. But she has weathered the storms gracefully and support for her and the monarchy remains 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 critical of royal financial affairs. The committee is a highly respected and essential watchdog of government spending in the House of Commons. It plays a key constitutional role and boasts 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, leveled several charges at 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 program”. Hodge suspected the Queen had “not been served well” by her household accountants or by the Treasury, the arm of the government, which 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. “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 program was also criticized in the report, which claimed that at least 39 percent 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 the 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-man household staff also came under fire. The report charged that the 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 made the headlines for a few days and some even came up for debate by British lawmakers. At the end of the day, however, with a new generation of royals garnering attention through marriages and births, they were soon forgotten.

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

— The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena


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