Living like a queen just got a little cheaper: Buckingham Palace announced Thursday that Britain's royal family cut spending by about $4.2 million last year.
But despite efforts to save taxpayer money and make the monarch's expenses more open to the public, critics say the royal family is still living too high on the hog.
The announcement marked the launch of annual reports on the monarchy's expenses. Previously, the figures were published once every 10 years.
The move to annual financial reports comes at a time when the royal family is trying to appear more accessible to the public. More frequent reports are supposed to show greater transparency of the goings-on in the royal household.
"This is public money, raised by taxes," said David Pogson, spokesman for Queen Elizabeth II.
Parliament allots $11.2 million a year to the queen for her official expenses as head of state and to support her husband and mother. About 70% of that goes to staff salaries.
In addition to the funds allotted by Parliament, the queen generates revenue from the Crown Estate--land and other valuables passed from monarch to monarch--which earned about $189 million last year. Royal spending last year was about $50 million.
Buckingham Palace representatives point out that the queen generates more money for the treasury than is spent on the royal family. Critics, however, say the Crown Estate actually belongs to the people, not the monarchy.
In addition, the royal family earns money from private investments and property ownership. But those figures are not disclosed.
The savings in expenses last year came primarily from more economical travel and lower costs for maintenance on royal property.
The royals, however, aren't traveling on budget airlines or third-class trains. They saved money by using smaller jets and private helicopters instead of those of the Royal Air Force. In addition, a more cost-effective heating system has been installed at Buckingham Palace.
"This is not a case of the royal family being frugal," Pogson said. Staff salaries have not been reduced, and no cuts were made in the number of engagements the queen attends or in the number of people she invites to the palace.
"Any improvement in the degree of scrutiny of royal finances is a good thing," said Jon Temple, spokesman for Republic, a political organization lobbying for an elected head of state rather than a monarch. But, he said, the royal structure means that there remains an elite class above the law.
The royal family has unfairly amassed great wealth because it is not subject to the normal rules on inheritance taxes, Temple said.
"The queen and her heirs enjoy favorable tax status," he said. "Unlike the rest of us, they negotiate their own income tax rate. They are not equal before the law."
Despite such opposition and a vocal media calling for more accountability from the monarch, polls show that Britons are generally pleased with their royal leadership. A survey in April by the polling firm MORI found that 70% of the population preferred a monarchy to a republic.