Image: British royal family
Felipe Trueba  /  EPA file
Queen Elizabeth II, her husband, Prince Philip, next to her and other members of the royal family watch RAF planes from the balcony of Buckingham Palace on June 14.
updated 6/27/2008 9:02:25 PM ET 2008-06-28T01:02:25

Buckingham Palace accountants insisted Friday that the cost of maintaining Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family is a bargain for taxpayers, despite a price tag of $80 million, while a prominent anti-monarchist group said many of the true costs are hidden.

The Republic group also complained that the queen and her husband, Prince Philip, spent more than $44,000 of public money to take a helicopter to the Kentucky Derby during a prolonged official visit to the United States.

"She took a day off and went to the horse races and it cost the taxpayers a lot of money," said Republic spokesman Graham Smith. "We're going to raise serious questions about that. Why are we paying for a day at the races?"

The figures released Friday are incomplete, he said, because they don't include such things as security and the costs to local governments of royal visits.

In their annual report on the use of public money to support the queen and senior royals in their officials duties, Buckingham Palace officials stressed that the cost of the monarchy for each taxpayer is just 66 pence, or about $1.30, for each British subject.

It costs each Briton "less than the cost of two pints of milk or a download to an iPod" to fund the monarchy, according to a statement posted Friday on the queen's Web site.

Palace officials said public spending on the monarchy has increased from $76 million to $80 million for the year ending March 31 compared with the year before, but accountants said this was because of rising travel and maintenance costs, not a free-spending lifestyle.

Accountants pointed out that real costs had dropped more than 3 percent in the last seven years due to cost-cutting measures.

Sir Alan Reid, Keeper of the Privy Purse, said the queen's financial advisers pay "continuous attention to obtaining value for money."

Kentucky Derby trip draws controversy
He said the increase in overseas travel spending is a result of a higher number of requests from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for the queen and other senior royals to make official visits abroad.

Video: Even queen feels credit crunch A palace spokeswoman said this applies to the queen's side trip to the Kentucky Derby as well. She said that Foreign Office officials had asked her to travel to the United States and that the entire journey was part of an official visit when she was representing Britain as head of state.

"All of that trip was undertaken at the request of the Foreign Office on behalf of the government," said the spokeswoman, who asked not to be identified because of the monarch's press policy.

The helicopter allowed the queen, her husband, and two close friends — former U.S. ambassador to Britain William Farish and his wife — to easily get to Churchill Downs for the most glamorous horse race on the U.S. circuit.

Prince Charles vacations on taxpayers
The reports made public Friday also show that taxpayers kicked in more than $560,000 to pay for an official two-week visit to the Caribbean by Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla. This included $420,000 for a 12-day yacht charter.

Charles is expected to release detailed documents on his own expenditures Monday.

Official journeys by Prince Andrew in his capacity as an adviser on international trade and investment are also chronicled, with an extended U.S. trip costing $288,000 for flights alone. Flights for a trip to Singapore, Indonesia and India cost about $500,000.

The documents released Friday do not list individual budget items, such as the cost of the hotels or residences the queen uses on her visits overseas, but it does indicate that her most expensive trip was the lengthy sojourn to the United States to mark the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement.

The cost of the chartered aircraft for that trip alone cost taxpayers more than $760,000 according to the official documents.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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