Pictures of the King costing £8m sums up the appalling value for money we’re getting as taxpayers - David Behrens

The King cuts a curious figure in the official portrait of him unveiled this week. There he stands, in what looks like a corridor, in the tailcoat uniform of Admiral of the Fleet, his cap and gloves on the table beside him.

He’s wearing more chains than a gangster rapper and if you knew no better you might mistake him for a commissionaire from the Odeon.

This then is the official portrait being offered to public institutions around the country so that the Sovereign may gaze down benignly on his subjects from the grubby wall of your local community centre.

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Leaving aside the Communist symbolism of being looked over by an unelected individual in military uniform, the King’s stance seems ill-advised. Rooted in the values of long ago, it conveys superiority and privilege and says nothing of the socially aware man we presume him to be.

King Charles III during a visit to to Flitcham Church of England Primary Academy on January 5. PIC: Mrs S Wood/DNEAT/PA WireKing Charles III during a visit to to Flitcham Church of England Primary Academy on January 5. PIC: Mrs S Wood/DNEAT/PA Wire
King Charles III during a visit to to Flitcham Church of England Primary Academy on January 5. PIC: Mrs S Wood/DNEAT/PA Wire

But that’s by the by. What really bothers me about the picture’s distribution is how it can possibly be costing £8m, which is the amount of taxpayers’ money the Cabinet Office is spending on making sure every organisation that wants one, gets one.

There are those, not least the anti-monarchy campaign group known as Republic, who think this a shameful waste of money and that at a time when schools and hospitals are so badly underfunded the cash would be better spent on something else. Anything else.

They may have a point. But what I’d like to know is where the government got its figures from; why did it think an A3 print in a wood-effect frame would cost more than a few spare quid? When Supasnaps was still going, a reprint was less than a pint of beer and there’s still a bloke on Otley market knocking frames out for not much more. He’d probably do you a deal if you told him you were bulk buying for the nation.

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Now, in the grander scheme of things, £8m isn’t a lot. It would hardly cover a plate of sandwiches on the HS2 boardroom table. But the fact that we’ve become numb to the vast sums spent in our name doesn’t excuse the excess. £8m is still more than most of us will see in a lifetime and it stands as a timely reminder of the appalling value for money we’re getting as taxpayers.

Here’s the bigger picture: the pro-Europe campaign group Best for Britain calculates that £99bn has been wasted or dubiously allocated since 2019 through a combination of financial incompetence and dodgy business relationships. And while you may question the authors’ objectivity it’s hard to fault the drift of their argument.

The examples they list of money being flushed down the public toilet include £364m on sanitary coveralls at the start of the pandemic; £25bn on ‘test and trace’ systems that failed to reduce infections; and £55m on lawyers to represent the government at the subsequent inquiry. On top of all that, we had to pay the EU a £2.3bn fine for failing to carry out customs checks that might have stopped foreign gangs from flooding Europe with cheap clothes.

So wasting money is something we’re very good at in Britain. It may be our most successful national enterprise. Hooray for us!

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And though the cost of the King’s portrait is a mere digit on the spreadsheet it’s a useful yardstick – because we may not know how much it costs to build a hospital or railway line but we all know the price of a photo in a frame. Let’s say it’s going to take 10,000 of them to decorate the walls of every library and village hall, at £10 apiece. That’s a total of £100,000, which is 80 times less than the government is paying.

Where is the rest going? The most charitable explanation is that it will end up on the balance sheets of profiteering suppliers who see the public sector as a soft touch. A more cynical commentator might suggest backhanders to friends of friends.

Sub-postmasters would tell a different story again, especially after this week’s admission from their CEO that money taken from them unlawfully may have gone towards bonuses for those in the boardroom.

Whichever way you look at it, it’s a racket – and one that has got more shameless with each successive government.

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You can tell nothing of this from the calming image of His Majesty that’s currently winging its way to some public building in your area just before it’s closed down because the council can’t afford to run it.

And at least they’ve cropped the picture closely enough to preserve the King’s dignity; we can’t see his relatives squabbling in the background about whether Harry and Meghan asked the late Queen’s permission to name their daughter Lilibet. Shame – it would have made for a much more realistic picture of royal family life. In fact, if I had £8m I might have paid to see it.

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