The Prince of Wales, it is said, employs a manservant for the task of squeezing toothpaste on to the royal toothbrush. The servant cannot have the most demanding of careers, but he is almost certainly providing greater public utility than are many of the state’s bean-counters. Saving money, or rather the attempt to do so, is one of the fastest-growing areas of the public sector. Our national army of audit commissioners, value-for-money officers and best-practice co-ordinators is truly impressive. It is just a shame that in spite of them — or perhaps even partly because of them — taxpayers face an almost certain £10 billion worth of tax rises following the election. The whole exercise is typified by the NHS ‘Efficiency Unit’, which spent thousands of pounds booking hotel rooms for a conference which it later cancelled.
It is little wonder, given the government’s miserable failure to rein in its spending, that Labour’s minions should be busying themselves deflecting attention on to the housekeeping of the Prince of Wales and the accounts of the Duchy of Cornwall, which sustains him. Last week members of the House of Commons public accounts committee worked themselves into a high old state over Prince Charles’s rise in income from £3 million in 1993 to £12 million in 2004, accusing the Duchy of transferring money from its capital account to its revenue account. ‘This looks like jiggery-pokery to me,’ Gerry Steinberg complained to Bertie Ross, the Duchy’s secretary. ‘It looks as if you have been doing a bit of fiddling.’ Egged on by the committee, Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, has demanded to see the Duchy’s books.
The Prince of Wales, needless to say, cannot win. Had his income failed to rise over the past 11 years, the public accounts committee would be demanding to know why the Duchy of Cornwall had made such lousy investment decisions.