LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Buckingham Palace should open its doors to tourists more often and the money raised spent on maintaining crumbling royal buildings, a parliamentary watchdog said on Tuesday.
Queen Elizabeth's London residence is open to paying visitors for around 60 days in the summer but says any longer would interfere with official functions.
But the watchdog contends: if the Houses of Parliament in London and the White House in Washington can stay open longer, why can't the palace?
The Royal Household has built up a 32 million pound ($52 million) maintenance backlog for the so-called Occupied Royal Palaces Estate, which includes Windsor Castle to the West of London, Prince Charles's residence Clarence House and the Palace of Holyrood in Edinburgh.
But it receives less than half that amount a year in government funding from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee said.
The repair list includes the burial site of Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert at Frogmore House, near Windsor Castle, where 3 million pounds of work is urgently needed.
Their mausoleum, completed in 1871, has been awaiting restoration for 14 years and is on English Heritage's buildings at-risk register, but a lack of funds means there are no plans for repairs to start.
Admissions raised 7.2 million pounds in the last financial year, indicating the potential for additional income.
The committee called for extra admissions and dismissed concerns that opening days were constrained by the amount of time the palace is used for state and royal occasions, with the queen in residence for 111 days in 2008.
"Other buildings such as the White House and Houses of Parliament manage to open for most of the year, despite similar obligations and security concerns," the committee said.
It called for the money raised to be spent directly on maintenance.
At present, only a fraction of admissions cash -- which totaled 27 million pounds last year for all the occupied palaces -- is shared with the Royal Household.
Under an arrangement dating back to 1850, income from palace visitors instead goes to the Royal Collection Trust, a charity chaired by Prince Charles that looks after artworks held by the queen.
"This inequitable arrangement should be sorted out by the (Culture) Department," said the committee's chairman Edward Leigh.
"You would think that income generated from entrance fees could be used to top up the resources available to maintain these buildings," he added.
Editing by Steve Addison