In the public interest? The stories they didn’t want us to know

  • *In 2004 the Queen asked ministers for a poverty handout to help heat her palaces but was rebuffed because they feared it would be a public relations disaster. Royal aides were told that the £60m worth of energy-saving grants were aimed at families on low incomes and if the money was given to Buckingham Palace instead of housing associations or hospitals it could lead to “adverse publicity” for the Queen and the government.
  • *A “financial memorandum” formalising the relationship between the sovereign and ministers set out tough terms on how the Queen can spend the £38.2m handed over by Parliament each year to pay for her staff and occupied palaces.
  • *The Queen requested more public money to pay for the upkeep of her crumbling palaces while allowing minor royals and courtiers to live in rent-free accommodation.
  • *As early as 2004 Sir Alan Reid, the Keeper of the Privy Purse, had unsuccessfully put the case to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport for a substantial increase in the £15m-a-year grant to maintain royal buildings.
  • *The Palace planned to go ahead with refurbishing and renting the apartment of Diana, Princess of Wales at Kensington Palace after it had lain empty since her death in 1997.
  • *A letter exchange revealed a tussle over who has control of £2.5m gained from the sale of Kensington Palace land. Ministers said it belonged to the state, while Buckingham Palace said it belonged to the Queen.

The Ministry of Justice intends to increase the number of organisations to which FOI requests can be made, bringing in bodies such as the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Financial Services Ombudsman, and the higher education admissions body UCAS, and also all companies wholly owned by any number of public authorities.

The Government claimed that the thrust of the changes it announced yesterday to FOIs would make it “easier for people to use FOI to find and use information about the public bodies they rely on and their taxes pay for”.

The Royal Family is to be granted absolute protection from public scrutiny in a controversial legal reform designed to draw a veil of secrecy over the affairs of the Queen, Prince Charles and Prince William. Letters, emails and documents relating to the monarch, her heir and the second in line to the throne will no longer be disclosed even if they are in the public interest. Sweeping changes to the Freedom of Information Act will reverse advances which had briefly shone a light on the royal finances – including an attempt by the Queen to use a state poverty fund to heat Buckingham Palace – and which had threatened to force the disclosure of the Prince of Wales’s prolific correspondence with ministers.

 

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