Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 140 - 159)



  140. So anybody who had a large property while they were in post would not just stay in that property when they became a pensioner?
  (Sir Michael Peat) No. Even before we took over, no-one stayed in the property in which they had done their job.

  141. In terms of the present occupants, how is it determined who gets a property? Are there a number of tied houses tied to particular jobs, or when you become a member of staff within a certain range you become eligible to apply?
  (Sir Michael Peat) Yes. There is a list of staff who are entitled to housing. At present the list has 205 on it. They are mainly chauffeurs, gardeners, chefs, maids, people like that, the firemen, the maintenance men. The large majority of them are normal domestic workers who are provided with accommodation.

  142. I used the figure of £20,000 earlier on. There is nobody then who would be earning above £20,000, say, who would be in a grace and favour apartment?
  (Sir Michael Peat) Oh, yes, there are. When I was last examined by your Committee we had 56 officials and private secretaries who were housed. That number has now reduced to 39. It is our long-term intention, as was said in the last report of this Committee, to reduce it to 11. It can only be reduced as people leave or retire.

  143. It is now the position that there is no job above, say, £20,000 a year, or a figure similar to that, which requires the member of staff to live above the shop, as it were?
  (Sir Michael Peat) Yes, there are some. There are some jobs that get paid more than £20,000 who are still on our list, like our fire, health and safety manager. It is very important he lives on site. Like the Queen's Private Secretary who actually does not at the moment, the Assistant Private Secretary does, but who should live on site. Like people who look after some of the maintenance tasks, senior maintenance people, who do get paid more than £20,000 and who are on our list to be housed.

  144. If we do not have available a list of those who are considered to be essential to be on site—
  (Sir Michael Peat) It was in the last report.

  145. Thank you. Can I just come back to the point about under-occupation of existing properties. I think you were suggesting by and large there is very little under-occupation by pensioners. I understand that the widow of the former Lord Chamberlain has a two million grace and favour house at Hampton, is that right? That seems a fairly extreme example.
  (Sir Michael Peat) That does not come within my remit, I am not responsible for Hampton Court. The widow of a former Lord Chamberlain does have an apartment, I understand, at Hampton Court but that is not one of the occupied Palaces that comes within this grant-in-aid or is my responsibility.

  146. So that, as a grace and favour apartment, would not come under your remit at all, is that right?
  (Sir Michael Peat) No, it is not one of these Palaces.

  147. It would not come under the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee?
  (Sir Michael Peat) Yes, it does come under the National Audit Office and they have to audit it, but it is not my responsibility or covered by this report.

  148. In terms of repairs, comparing this to my own area, do I take it that all the repairs done to all the properties that are occupied by staff or pensioners are all done as needed and there is no list of repairs that cannot be done because of cost difficulties?
  (Sir Michael Peat) No. We get provided funding by the department and we have a programme to do all essential repairs. It is a stitch in time. There is no point letting, particularly old buildings,—

  149. I understand that but it does not apply to my own local authority because they cannot afford it. There is clearly a double standard that interests me, but that is not your fault, you use what is available. Can I ask, one issue that you raised that I did not quite understand was the issue about the Queen holding the Palaces and collections in trust for the nation.
  (Sir Michael Peat) Yes.

  150. I think you said that she could not sell them or pass them on.
  (Sir Michael Peat) Yes.

  151. Why do we not just do it ourselves? If they are state assets why does the Government not run them? What is the advantage of having them in this one removed fashion?
  (Sir Michael Peat) I do not know. It is a rather conceptual question from history. It has always been done like that. What is the disadvantage in doing it this way?

  152. I am asking you the question. There is no gain at all in having it done in this way, is there?
  (Sir Michael Peat) Let me put it like this. I think there is a gain. Because the Queen is responsible and because she is particularly interested in minimising expenditure for the taxpayer. I believe, if you do not mind my saying so very immodestly, that the Royal Household in running the Palaces and the other costs of the monarchy has the best cost saving record, or one of the best cost saving records, in the public sector. We have reduced the cost of the monarchy from £83 million to £37 million a year, so things are run very efficiently. Why change a winning team?

  153. I am not arguing that. So effectively this is a method of contracting it out?
  (Sir Michael Peat) Yes.

  154. You have contracted it out?
  (Sir Michael Peat) You could put it like that, yes.

  155. Would it be true, if I can put it like this, that effectively you have contracted this out? We have ownership of all the assets and you just manage them for us.
  (Sir Michael Peat) The Queen, as Head of State, owns them on behalf of the nation, yes. The Queen, as the Crown, owns everything because she is Head of State.

  Mr Davidson: There are things that the Government owns. I do not quite understand this distinction between things that are owned by the Government and things that are owned by the Queen on behalf of the nation. I understand possibly the merits of contracting out. I had not seen royalty as being an agency arrangement before, but that is an interesting way of putting it. I wonder if I could ask Sir Robin— Not Sir Robin actually, Mr Young.

  Mr Steinberg: Not yet.

Mr Davidson

  156. Whether or not that is your understanding of the position?
  (Mr Young) Yes, it is. There is a classification of properties, some of which are owned by the Government, some of which are owned by the Royal Household, that is what Michael is saying.

  157. I understand that, but handling it that way rather than having it all done by the Government, why do we have to have Sir Michael, wonderful man though he is, efficient man though he is, doing all this when it is part of your remit and you could deal with it directly?
  (Mr Young) Certainly in 1991 it was the remit of the Government department to run the Household's business. Look at the figure on page 17 which shows the result of sub-contracting it to someone nearer the ground, whether it is Sir Michael or somebody else. The Historic Royal Palaces, which is the agency that runs Hampton Court, which you have just referred to, is run by a different sort of organisation which is an agency or quango of my department. That is another model.

  158. You have contracted it out and presumably the principle of that is we could bring it back in-house again and contract it out to somebody else?
  (Mr Young) Yes.

  159. Can I just ask about the point referring to you as Sir Robin. Presumably this is a question that might come up at some stage in the future and one of your assessors will be Sir Michael, informally or otherwise. What sort of performance indicator do you think gets taken into account in these matters as far as you are concerned? Presumably if you cause difficulties you will not get one, so from our point of view it will be a mark of honour if you do not become Sir Robin.
  (Sir Michael Peat) To save Robin embarrassment, he is my assessor, he determines with the Treasury what my pay is. I have nothing to do with assessing him at all.

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