Review of Management and Services: Report to the House of Commons Commission Part 6



The Department

6.1    The DFA has already played a key role in the development and application of financial and administrative systems, and will continue to do so. As these become more integrated and corporate, other Departments of the House will need to rely more heavily on the services and advice which the DFA provides.

6.2    There are significant issues to be addressed here. There is a strong perception on the part of other House Departments that the DFA has not provided them with the service which they need, both in terms of quality and speed. The results of this have been reluctance to rely on the DFA, and resistance to initiatives for which the DFA is responsible, including those which have been required to implement the Ibbs settlement.

6.3    The views of Departments, however strongly held, should be put in perspective. As is clear from the Ibbs Report, the DFA started from a very low baseline, and progress was comparatively slow for some time. Increasing volumes of business (see paragraph 5.14) have been handled with little increase in staff, and routine delivery of services has had to be combined with managing internal and external change.

6.4    We are confident that the Director of Finance and Administration is aware of what needs to be done, and is tackling the issues involved. The Senior Management Review identified a need for cohesion between the three federal elements of the Department (Establishments, Finance and Fees Offices) and for management more directed to the effective delivery of services. The specific changes recommended by that Review are largely in place, and over the last few months increasing emphasis has been placed on customer satisfaction and quality of service.

6.5    The way ahead will involve other Departments as well as the DFA: Departments must be explicit about the services they need from the DFA; two–way service level agreements (SLAs) should formalise the requirements and make clear to the DFA what should be delivered, so that it can make dispositions, or bid for resources, accordingly. An SLA on personnel services has been in place since December 1996. A process of monitoring performance, feedback and adjustment of future SLAs should provide the basis for better understanding and confidence.

6.6    Four points need to be made about SLAs:

  • they are not panaceas; indeed there is a risk that the service provider may interpret provisions in a narrowly legalistic way which is contrary to the essential spirit of co-operation and customer service
  • by definition they deal with known requirements and are based on established patterns of activity. Parliamentary requirements produce unexpected demands, and the service provider must be prepared to meet these effectively
  • formulation of SLAs should be corporate, and they should be approved by the Board of Management. An SLA with minor unnecessary variations between Departments may be wasteful as well as over–complicated
  • as a matter of principle, SLAs should be simple, quantitative where possible, and have mechanisms for review.

6.7    The DFA will need to close the “perception gap” and gain greater credibility and acceptance amongst other Departments if it is to play an effective role in the development of the House administration and management along the lines we recommend. Key elements will be:

  • maintaining and increasing its new emphasis on customer satisfaction and quality of service
  • recognition of the DFA’s own capabilities and limitations. Initiatives must be effectively supported and momentum kept up in order to achieve acceptance by other Departments
  • realism about the ability of the organisation as a whole to change. Explanation and support of change are both essential to achieving confidence
  • improving knowledge of the business of other Departments, and of the pressures upon them. Training and familiarisation will be part of this, but the process could also be embedded by some cross–posting, shadowing (short attachments to see how other jobs are performed) and mentoring (using designated sources of advice and guidance)

Finance and personnel functions in the DFA and in other Departments

6.8    All other Departments have acquired finance and personnel staff, or have given some finance and personnel functions to existing staff. There is wide variation, depending on the nature of Departments’ business.

  Finance Personnel Total complement 31.03.99
Clerk’s Department 0.9 1.5 269
Serjeant’s Department 14.6 6.2 395.5 1
Library 1.0 2.5 198
Official Report 5.0 110
Refreshment 10 4 314.5 2

Numbers are full-time equivalents.

1. Including craft grades in PWD

2. Including catering grades

6.9    This has happened in an unstructured way, partly for historical reasons and partly because of the demands of business and a wish to have dedicated staff fully conversant with local conditions. A move to a more corporate structure and operation would not necessarily prejudice arrangements such as these. One course might be towards greater delegation to Departments to give them better control over the resources required to meet their objectives. The proviso is that in a corporate system the delegations are explicit and that they are enforced. In practice, it is no more than the concept of subsidiarity: what can be better or more effectively provided at local level stays there. What needs to be centrally provided (to ensure best practice, meet legal requirements or reap economies of scale) is the responsibility of a common service.

6.10    One model for the development of the finance function might be:


  • provide a corporate financial framework
    • policy and accounting framework
    • rules and specific advice on financial control: rules for business cases, limits of delegation, assumptions for budgeting
    • statutory accounts and external audit business
  • run the accounting systems (general ledger, accounts payable and receivable, asset register and payroll, cash flow, bank reconciliations)
  • provide advice on the development of management accounting information
  • be a centre of excellence in financial advice and training
  • control: report on financial performance to the Clerk of the House and the Board of Management; produce management accounting information that Departments need; provide internal audit and review


  • implement the financial framework: prepare budgets, longer term planning figures, business cases, and Department-specific procedures
  • management of data: Departments own financial and management data, and validate information provided for and produced by central accounting systems (this will require input and access to, and reports from, the central accounting system). Departments may need to manipulate data off–line for further analysis
  • financial controls: setting local controls within the overall guidelines, seeking assistance of internal audit and review when necessary
  • control of fixed assets, stock etc.
  • manpower planning and control under the new arrangements

A similar model could and should be developed for the personnel function. Options in both the finance and personnel fields should be kept under review.

6.11    This more corporate approach to finance and personnel matters would have several advantages:

  • greater comfort and assurance for Departments in “owning” their part of the process
  • some cross-posting producing better understanding of, and responsiveness to, Departments’ needs
  • improved career development for finance and personnel staff

6.12    In the longer term, the adoption of this approach could provide a basis for decisions on whether to outsource some of the more routine central finance and accounting functions.

The Director of Finance and Administration

6.13    Ibbs foresaw the need to cast the net widely in the private sector and the public service in filling this post. The first DoFA came from the private sector, and the present incumbent from the Civil Service (Inland Revenue). We think that the introduction of skills and experience from outside, and the ability to challenge House culture, are important benefits. We think there is a strong case for the next DoFA also to come from outside the House service; it may be that Whitehall will provide more applicable knowledge and experience than the private sector. But in either case, someone joining the House service at a senior level faces formidable problems in understanding and operating in this environment. This is a classic case for the use of mentoring to help the process of adjustment.

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© Parliamentary copyright 1999
Prepared 26 July 1999