Examination of witnesses (Questions 120
MONDAY 18 DECEMBER 2000
BOURN, KCB, MR
YOUNG and SIR
120. Outside the cordon?
(Sir Michael Peat) Yes.
121. What sort of rents are you looking at on
(Sir Michael Peat) For some of them in Central London
we might get £50,000 a year plus, more than that, a lot of
122. The ones inside the cordon where you have
got this pool, how many of them are there and what rent do you
(Sir Michael Peat) The highest rent for one inside
the cordon is £45,000 a year.
123. Am I right to say that the National Audit
Office has not got access to any of these figures?
(Sir Michael Peat) Yes, they have got access to all
of these figures.
124. Moving to close really, just to come back
on this issue of Windsor Castle. Have I got this right, that the
basic idea was the money was being charged for entry specifically
for restoration following the fire and you have essentially argued
that is true but that is not what you are doing, in some sense
some of the money gets paid back into your trust fund? That is
correct, is it not?
(Sir Michael Peat) No. We introduced a new charge
for Windsor Castle to pay for the fire restoration and, now the
fire restoration is paid for, that continues to be available to
offset the grant-in-aid.
125. Can I ask Mr Young something very briefly.
I understand from the report that the department's arrangements
for verifying visitor income at Windsor Castle have lapsed in
some sense. A lot of the questions we have been asking are about
the level of disclosures from the Royal Household and your department
has essentially allowed less to occur. Why is that?
(Mr Young) What happened was we accepted the audited
accounts from the Household of the receipts from the Windsor precinct
income. We dropped the requirement for a separate Certified statement.
We did not cross-check them with the external auditor. Egged on
by the NAO's Report we have indeed now asked for and received
statements, certifying the calculation of the amounts involved
for 1998-99 and 1999-2000. We have done that double check which
the report suggested.
126. I understand that you do not specifically
require your consultants to establish whether there is a maintenance
backlog, rather simply to look and check that everything is not
completely falling down. Why is that?
(Mr Young) That was the position. We have now asked
our consultants to check the contents of the quinquennial surveys
at each Palace and then cross-check the things that need to be
done that are written out in those quinquennial surveys and to
make sure that they are included in the five year work programme.
We are now filling that gap. The reason we did not before was
because we thought, and indeed we might have been right, that
in the normal discussions between the Household, the department
and our respective advisers these things would have been thrown
up in the normal course of business.
127. My original question to Sir Michael Peat
was about how the maintenance had reduced faster than the grant,
hence there might be underneath this an emerging increase in the
(Mr Young) It is a possibility, which is why we have
asked our consultants. It is not, if I may say so, the flavour
of our discussions with the Household. We do not sense that they
are not coming forward with necessary maintenance work and so
far in the quinquennial reviews there has not been that sort of
suggestion. It is not that sort of outfit where you feel they
are skimping on the necessary maintenance.
128. When you talk about flavours and senses,
I am wondering whether there is actually a hidden backlog emerging
that they are prioritising in a different way and you do not know.
(Mr Young) We have asked our consultants to start
so they are now examining the Buckingham Palace quinquennial review,
which finished in 1998. They are going through a list of every
piece of work which that quinquennial review flagged up as needing
to be done and checking that it is in their five year work programme.
So we are doing it exactly as you are suggesting.
129. You do not know yet whether there has been
an accumulating backlog that at the front of it looked like everything
was going well and the costs were going down?
(Mr Young) No, we do not, but in the report there
were two pieces of work. If you look at page 26 they talk about
what is being done to ensure the Palaces are being maintained
to an appropriate standard. "The Royal Household also seek
independent assurance that the Occupied Royal Palaces are being
maintained to the appropriate standard..." and you will see
in the example quoted of Windsor "The general structural
condition of all the buildings surveyed is good..." So there
is plenty of evidence about good structural surveys being done
and no evidence so far of a backlog building up, but we are checking
and our consultants are on the case.
130. There could be a picture emerging there
that everything seems all right, the numbers are going down, the
share of grant maintenance has gone done, and the maintenance
backlog was the reason for the fire. Instead of investing in the
basic structure we may be investing in sticking plasters in terms
of fire precautions rather than maintenance. Is that not a worry
(Mr Young) It is a worry but I think not one that
I am losing sleep about in the sense that we feel these things
are well maintained. The report goes on to say, in paragraph 2.9
on page 12, that everything flagged up as being needed to be done
urgently has been done.
131. My worry here is I am sure if I asked Sir
Michael Peat the same questions he would say "do not worry,
trust me". I am not saying we do not trust Sir Michael obviously
but the difficulty is the NAO having access to the accounts and
you having access and it seems from the replies you are giving
that you have not got complete access to some of these issues
about the possibility of emerging backlogs that still need to
be checked out as far as you are concerned.
(Mr Young) It is not an access issue at all. We have
now asked Watts & Partners, our consultants, specifically
to check the question that was raised here and we will get those
results. Because we have asked them that does not mean we are
expecting the answer "yes", I am expecting to find the
answer that these places are well maintained.
132. Can I ask Sir Michael to comment about
the backlogs, the hidden backlogs?
(Sir Michael Peat) Yes. I can say unequivocally that
the buildings have never been in better condition from the day
they were built and are probably in better condition now than
the day they were built. The reason for my confidence on this
is because the quinquennial surveys are undertaken not by ourselves
but by independent practices and independent surveyors, giving
a number of layers of review.
133. Are they elves?
(Sir Michael Peat) Their reports are that big. Yes,
the size of elves. Also, English Heritage are very, very closely
involved with the estate, they attend all our programme meetings
and go through it all. We have got our own property section who
take great pride in the buildings. Remember there are getting
towards two million visitors every year, the Queen has 80,000
guests, and there are a thousand people who work in the Palaces,
people would spot it if they were falling to pieces. So you have
got the independent quinquennial surveys, you have got English
Heritage, you have got our own people, you have got the visitors,
and now you have got, in addition, the department's surveyors
too. We have got a number of belts and a number of pairs of braces.
Mr Davies: All you need now is Alan Williams.
Thank you very much.
134. I wonder if I could follow up the questions
that were asked earlier about access to the flats and you gave
us the numbers. In terms of the pensioners, I do not quite understand
how it is decided that some people end up as pensioners living
on the Royal Estate and others do not. Are these gardeners, electricians
and the like?
(Sir Michael Peat) Yes. The guideline is, if it is
available, that you are entitled to pensioner accommodation if
you have been housed for 20 years, if you do not have your own
house and if your pension from the Queen is less than, at present,
£10,900 a year, which is increased by inflation. So if you
fall within those three criteria then you are eligible to be considered
for pensioner housing.
135. So there is nobody who was previously earning
more than £10,900?
(Sir Michael Peat) That is the pension. It depends
how long you have been there.
136. If you are a pensioner on £10,900,
you would be on a finishing salary of what?
(Sir Michael Peat) It is usually about two-thirds.
It is going to be about £16,000 or £17,000.
137. So say it was £20,000, nobody who
was earning more than £20,000 would be in a pensioner's house?
(Sir Michael Peat) That is the present rule that we
have implemented since we took over in 1991. There are still some
pensioners, as I was saying before, probably ten or so, who do
not meet those criteria because they were put into the pensioner
accommodation before the Household were responsible for it.
138. And they have just hung on?
(Sir Michael Peat) That was the condition on which
they went in.
139. I understand that. My local authority has
a policy to try to move people who under-occupy large properties
into smaller properties.
(Sir Michael Peat) Pensioners do not get large properties.
There are no large properties for pensioners. They are special
properties for pensioners.