UK royal residences open after virus shutdown but job losses loom

·2 min read
Guardsmen in ceremonies at Windsor Castle last month to mark the Queen's official birthday. The castle, which dates back to the 11th century, is reopening to the public after a long coronavirus shutdown

Some of Queen Elizabeth II's royal residences will reopen to the public later this month after the coronavirus shutdown, the charity that runs them said Wednesday, while warning that the crisis would lead to staff cuts. Windsor Castle, west of London, where the 94-year-old monarch has been staying since the start of the pandemic, will be open for pre-booked, timed visits from July 23. The Royal Mews and the Queen's Gallery at her London home of Buckingham Palace will reopen the same day, as will the Palace of Holyroodhouse, her official residence in Edinburgh. However, the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace, Frogmore House and Clarence House will stay shut over the summer months "owing to the operational challenges of social distancing". And the Royal Collection Trust, which looks after the Royal Collection of art and manages public access to the official residences, warned it would be seeking voluntary redundancies. The closures "had a very significant and serious impact on our finances, as we are entirely funded by visitor income from admissions and related retail sales", a spokeswoman told AFP. The trust expected an income of £77 million (85.6 million euros, $96.5 million) this year but this has been revised down to £13 million, and it currently expects to make a loss of £30 million. Major projects have been cancelled or postponed, recruitment has been frozen and the trust has taken out a £22- million loan, but it said it needed to further reduce costs. "Inevitably this must include a reduction in staff costs, which is our greatest single expense," she said. "As an initial step, we will implement a pay freeze, begin a process of consultation about the reduction of employer pension contributions and offer a voluntary severance programme to employees." Visitors to the royal residences will be asked to book tickets in advance and new measures have been introduced, including one-way routes, to maintain social distancing to limit the spread of coronavirus.