The Court of Auditors highlights the fragilities of Chambord

Chambord (Loir-et-Cher). Chambord vs Kronenbourg: the estate took the brewer to court for having used, without authorization, the image of the castle in an advertisement in 2010. A lawsuit lost by Jean d’Haussonville – then general director of the estate – but a step forward in the legislative field. Indeed, the LCAP law of 2016 introduces the creation of “national domains”, accompanied by measures protecting and monetizing their brand image.

This episode, like others, forged the image of a well-defended heritage and an effective economic strategy during the thirteen years – in three mandates – of Jean d’Haussonville. The figures speak for themselves: in 2019, the Loir-et-Cher area exceeded its self-financing objectives, with 82% of revenue coming from its own resources. Attendance at the site increased by 25% between 2011 and 2019, thanks to a policy of development and diversification of cultural programming. On paper, an example to follow. But for the magistrates of the Court of Auditors, who published their report in November, this attractive model contains significant weaknesses.

A budget under pressure

In its objective of financial autonomy, the Chambord estate comes up against a limit: that of the price of the entrance ticket, which has increased by 68% (today €16 at full price), and leaves “only narrow room for maneuver” to increase attendance. Extending this increase to approach around twenty euros, in a period of inflation, would push back part of the potential visitors: a dangerous calculation, since, as the Court of Auditors notes, “two-thirds of the increase in resources is directly linked to the use of the domain”, thanks to the shops, car parks, and activities offered on the site. Especially since, at the same time as revenues, the castle’s expenses increased by 7% per year, between 2011 and 2022: “The growth in expenses has largely absorbed new revenue”, estimates the report. Financially under pressure, the establishment must consolidate its visitor numbers, and – as recommended by the magistrates – smooth out attendance over the year.

Before leaving Chambord for the Monaco embassy this summer, Jean d’Haussonville had no shortage of ideas for developing the estate’s resources. The Court of Auditors, however, makes a harsh assessment of these various projects, which would take advantage of the vast forest area. The marketing of carbon credits, which would make it possible to promote the planting of new high forests, is one of these projects presented as a vector of growth for the area, but which the Court of Auditors considers barely capable of absorbing the cost of reforestation of the forest. , very damaged.

The estate’s accounts are weighed down by other activities that are currently loss-making such as the vegetable garden and the castle’s wine business, which have caused a loss of more than 1.5 million euros since 2019. Work on the image of the Chambord brand, which has been involved for a long time, is producing meager results: the establishment received 426,000 euros in royalties, between 2016 and 2023, but has devoted 382,000 euros since 2010 to the lawsuit against Kronenbourg.

Too much managerial autonomy

The development of patronage, however, is remarkable: from 200,000 euros in 2011, it now accounts for 3 million euros in Chambord’s revenue. Large groups have gained the loyalty, such as Generali or EDF, in particular thanks to the “hunting” rewards offered by this presidential hunting area. The Court of Auditors nevertheless notes a legal inconsistency in using these invitations to hunts as compensation (they cannot be valued financially), as well as shortcomings in the evaluation of the value of sponsorships of competence and in kind: the magistrates underline “a lack of vigilance in this matter and repeatedly over time”.

Hazardous investments, opaque patronage, but also irregular public procurement, these situations are favored by very autonomous governance. A public establishment of an industrial and commercial nature (EPIC), freed from the status of State operator since 2019, the Chambord estate operates without a mission letter from the Ministry of Culture and reports very little to its supervision. The rare meetings of the various boards (of administration, orientation or collections) also leave the field free to the general management of the establishment. In the operation of EPIC, this management, which is accountable only to itself, poses psychosocial risks to the numerous employees (the workforce has increased significantly to support the establishment’s growth), risks objectified by an audit in 2022. And for the built heritage of the Renaissance castle, the absence of strategic vision and supervision by the competent authorities is also harmful: in disuse, the François I wing was closed to the public in 2019.

Rambouillet-Chambord, a shaky team

Asset management. If the Center des Monuments Nationaux (CMN) manages the Château de Rambouillet, it is the Chambord estate which manages the Grand Parc, even though it is 140 km from Chambord. The general director of the Château du Loir-et-Cher also wears the hat of commissioner for the development of the Parc des Yvelines. The heavily degraded heritage of the Grand Parc weighs on the accounts of Chambord, which relies on patronage to rehabilitate it. The Court of Auditors notes, in its report, a lack of coordination between the different actors (CMN, EPIC of Chambord, but also the Zootechnical Education Center) in the management of this fragmented heritage. In the absence of a single operator, the report calls for at least single governance to implement a master plan in Rambouillet.

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