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Queen learns to pinch pennies

world Updated: Jul 10, 2010 01:00 IST
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With historic budget cuts about to change the way the British live — slashing children’s benefits, freezing public salaries and trimming welfare rolls — one must do one’s part: Even the queen is cutting back.

Financially ailing Britain is dramatically shifting away from an era of big government, entering a new age of austerity to fend off the same kind of fiscal crisis now gripping Greece. With her subjects facing a bare-bones budget and a bevy of higher taxes, Queen Elizabeth II has launched what some here describe as a preemptive strike against those who say this deeply indebted nation can no longer afford the gilded trappings of its monarchy.

The queen is freezing salaries for royal servants and aides earning more than $73,500 and reviewing all vacant slots with an eye to reducing her staff of 1,400 — which includes a royal piper who plays under her window in the mornings and an official counter of swans.

For the first time in her 58-year reign, the queen has also agreed to regular audits of royal expenditures by the same national agency that reviews education, defence and other types of government spending.

The queen’s household is reportedly making plans to cut back on official engagements and reduce spending by 25 per cent or more in the coming years. Palace officials say that roof leaks at Buckingham Palace will be temporarily patched instead of pristinely repaired.

Plans to remove asbestos and replace Victorian-era lead water pipes at the palace will be put off, possibly for years, as will the refurbishment of Queen Victoria’s dilapidated mausoleum at Windsor Castle, the royal family’s weekend retreat.

After a fit of public outrage at the cost of providing security to minor royals, Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice, the queen’s granddaughters, are also set to lose their 24-hour bodyguards, which have reportedly cost taxpayers here upwards of $700,000 a year.

As a result of steps already taken, the cost of the monarchy to British taxpayers fell by roughly $4 million over the past year, the palace proudly disclosed this week.

Overall, the queen spent about $56 million in government funds in 2009-2010 — or 94 cents per British citizen — down from about $61 million a year earlier.

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