Review of Management and Services: Report to the House of Commons Commission Part 3



The problem

3.1    The brief for the Ibbs inquiry was

    "to examine whether the responsibilities for the management of the House and its facilities, at present divided between [the House of Commons Commission], the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services), the Department of the Environment and the Leader of the House, can be brought together with a view to ensuring that so far as possible there is a co–ordinated management and decision–making structure under the control of the House, which can adequately respond to Members' needs and demands for services, and determine priorities between them".

3.2    The Ibbs team had to grapple with a situation which was profoundly unsatisfactory in terms of responsibilities, structure and operation.

3.3    House expenditure was divided between seven Votes; the Accounting Officers for five of them (including works and printing) were outside the Parliamentary Service, and the House was deprived of effective control. So far as the House did have control over expenditure on its services, there was a lack of clarity about how policy was decided, and who was responsible for policy and execution respectively. The Commission, statutorily responsible for finance under the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978 and the employer of House staff, was unable to formulate policy effectively.

3.4    The Services Committee and its sub–committees, the Board of Management and the Departments of the House, which should have been managing the services of the House, had indistinct responsibilities and blurred relationships with one another; and they did not possess the financial and management expertise required. The Board of Management did not exercise an effective corporate management role.

3.5    Good financial management systems and the associated control mechanisms did not exist. There was no effective planning, measurement of achievement against requirement, nor assessment of value for money.

3.6    The Ibbs inquiry found that many Members knew little of the arrangements for servicing the House, or the means of solving problems. At the same time it recognised an "impressive degree of goodwill among staff" and a willingness to make change, which had already led to some improvements being put in hand.

The prescription

3.7    Ibbs thought that the House of Commons Commission should be more active in determining policy on services; but playing a strategic role and leaving the detailed work to be done by Committees and House officials.

3.8    He recommended reform of the committee structure, replacing the Services Committee with a Finance and Services Committee (F&S) charged with providing financial and other advice to the Commission, and separate Select Committees to represent Members' interests as consumers, on: catering, accommodation and works, information; and administration.

3.9    He recommended that a comprehensive financial management system should be introduced throughout the House, and that the Administration Department should be reformed to develop and operate it; and that the Board of Management should have an enhanced corporate management role, giving advice and support on financial matters to the Accounting Officer, F&S and the Commission.

3.10    On staff, Ibbs wanted to see the Clerk's overall management responsibility for the execution of policy made clear, but he left in place the federal Departmental structure. He recommended two new appointments: a qualified and experienced Director of Finance to head the new Finance and Administration Department, providing professional support to the Clerk, F&S and the Commission; and a qualified Director of Works to provide similar support on the works side.

3.11    On finance, Ibbs recommended that, once the financial management system was in place and the appointments made, the Commission should progressively assume responsibility for all Votes except that for Members' salaries and allowances; and that this change should be matched by the regular examination of accounts and performance measures by the National Audit Office, reviewed by the Public Accounts Committee.

3.12    Each Department should agree with the Commission a statement specifying the services it would provide, the resources it would have at its disposal, and the results it was expected to achieve. Clear statements of the role and purpose of each Department, its organisation, systems and reporting lines, should be published; and Departmental plans should be produced to convert broad policies into programmes with appropriate resources. Departments should make annual reports to the Commission on their activities, performance against targets and financial performance.

3.13    The Ibbs report emphasised that there should be more clarity and understanding among Members about the House's administrative operations. It also stressed that, for the recommended changes to succeed, they had to be set out "clearly and unambiguously and then adhered to".

The quality of the Ibbs settlement

3.14    The Ibbs Report was a remarkable piece of work. It was commissioned at a time when there was intense dissatisfaction about accommodation and the House's lack of control over works services. This spilled over into criticism of services such as catering and supply of office equipment.

3.15    These concerns were both the starting point of the Ibbs inquiry and the catalyst for change, but Ibbs went much wider, producing an integrated plan for the formulation of policy and effective delivery of services. At the same time the repatriation of the Works Vote was a major political achievement which emphasised the principle of the House's financial independence.

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© Parliamentary copyright 1999
Prepared 26 July 1999