1. Resourcing a Parliament effectively is of vital constitutional importance, but extremely difficult. The business is complex, the environment reactive and unpredictable. Expectations of public bodies have increased, but the problems are no less. There must be strategic planning, effective management and financial control; but also sensitivity to the needs of the House and its Members. The Ibbs Report of November 1990 sought to resolve this tension.
The Ibbs inquiry and Report
2. The Ibbs Team found a situation which was profoundly unsatisfactory in terms of responsibilities, structure and operation. There were no mechanisms for financial management, and the House did not control substantial areas of Parliamentary expenditure.
3. Ibbs recommended a strategic role for the Commission; a Finance and Services Committee to provide preparation and political support; domestic committees to express Members views; an active Board of Management under the Clerk of the House who would have overall responsibility for services; a Director of Finance and Administration heading a revamped Department; transfer of all Parliamentary expenditure to the Houses control; a Director of Parliamentary Works; and better management, planning, information and control.
4. The Ibbs settlement was a remarkable piece of work; accommodation was the catalyst for change; but the inquiry resulted in an integrated plan for the planning and delivery of services, and the Houses control over its own expenditure.
Implementation of the Ibbs recommendations
5. The Ibbs structure and major changes were made swiftly, but full implementation was slow and in some areas did not occur. Faster progress has been made in the last two to three years. Much remains to be done to develop strategic planning, better financial management and control, separation of political advice and decision, and a corporate method of operation among House Departments.
6. The House of Commons Commission should remain the overall supervisory body. It has not taken a strategic view, partly because of the way in which matters have come to it for decision, but it nevertheless works effectively within constraints. It needs better information, support and preparation. It must establish a strategic framework within which the Board of Management can operate, and decide long-term planning issues.
7. The Finance and Services Committee has enagaged in many of the tasks foreseen by Ibbs, but has not fully taken on its intended role and has not been able to provide continuity. It should be smaller and more focused, and act as an executive committee of the Commission. It should have a close relationship with the Board of Management, and the Chairman should play a prominent part. It needs better information and support.
8. The domestic committees have operated in a variety of ways; sometimes in the advisory role seen by Ibbs, but often in an executive mode which has blurred responsibilities and has not contributed to their perceived effectiveness among Members as a whole. Attendance has fallen, and the very high turnover of membership has robbed them of continuity and experience. There are arguments for replacing them with informal groups; but they have also done some good work as select committees, and should remain so. However, they should operate according to the Ibbs prescription, working in closer informal co-operation with Officers of the House and aware of the strategic framework and long-term plans laid down by the Commission.
9. The Clerk of the House was seen by Ibbs as the chief executive; has assumed this role to a much greater extent over the last two to three years; and has been instrumental in the accelerating progress during that time. He needs matching formal authority; Heads of Departments should become formally responsible to him for their performance and that of their Departments. The Clerk needs better support; there should be a small but high-powered Office of the Clerk, which should also co-ordinate the decisionmaking process and provide support for the Commission, the Finance and Services Committee and the Board of Management. A Press Office function is also required.
10. The Board of Management has operated in a way dictated by the federal structure, but has recently begun to work in a more corporate manner. It will need to develop knowledge and skills, and to make greater use of a modified group of House-wide official committees on major policy areas. There should also be more use of crossDepartmental project structures and processes. The Board should have better corporate information, reported monthly. It should carry out formal reviews of capital expenditure.
11. The Clerks Department should be separately represented on the Board to allow the Clerk to have a properly corporate function. The Boards secretariat should be provided by the Office of the Clerk.
12. No change should at present be made in the Departmental structure, but there are options which may become appropriate.
13. The Department of Finance and Administration has carried out substantial work in Ibbs implementation, and will have a major part to play in carrying through our recommendations. It has had to combine major change with the routine delivery of services in the federal environment, and other Departments have had a poor perception of its performance. Service level agreements, a focus on customer satisfaction, and realism about the possibilities and problems of change, will address this relationship.
14. There has been some House-wide progress on financial information and management, but much remains to be done, particularly on integrated business and financial planning supported by good cost information. The introduction of resource accounting and budgeting will be a significant factor. There should be better measurement, monitoring and reporting of corporate objectives. Accounting systems should converge and duplication should be eliminated.
15. There should be a new Audit Committee, with an outside element to improve governance.
Accommodation and works
16. The Ibbs arrangements were fully implemented, and have delivered substantial improvements in accommodation, resulting in a striking rise in levels of satisfaction. There should be new arrangements and phasing for the approval of the works programme, and greater clarity in purpose and categories of expenditure. The client/supplier relationship might be modified with the aim of achieving greater value for money; this should be further investigated.
17. IT passed almost without mention in the Ibbs Report, but is now a major area of expenditure subject to continuing technical change, handled through complex Departmental arrangements, and a source of dissatisfaction to Members. Costs are difficult to estimate and control. There should be a move to a corporate organisation, with the Parliamentary Communications Directorate assuming full central control over infrastructure. Departmental confidence should be maintained by service level agreements and a focus on customer satisfaction. IT should be an integral part of business planning, and should be subject to effective measurement of costs, benefits and performance. Some outsourcing may be possible.
Communications and culture
18. As Ibbs intended, the use of Questions as a means of raising domestic management matters has declined significantly. Members still know little about the House administration, but this is unlikely to change. It is much more important that Members, their staff, and staff of the House are aware of how to use services, of possible developments, and how to make suggestions or criticisms. Reaching this audience is difficult; but a more co-ordinated approach, based on achieving outcomes rather than describing arrangements, should be taken. Information on the work of the Commission and the domestic committees should be part of this.
19. So far as the staff of the House are concerned, the federal structure has strengths in terms of loyalty and commitment, but weaknesses such as lack of knowledge of other Departments, and undervaluing their work as a result. Cross-posting, shadowing and mentoring all have a part to play in improving communication and understanding. Talks and seminars by various practitioners in the House service will help, and could play a part in raising awareness of Members and their staff as well. Work towards Investors in People accreditation will also be important.
Influences on the use of services
20. The demand for some services (for example Library research) has continued to rise, with implications for overall expenditure and planning. Increases are attributable to a change in Members ways of working and greater staff support through the OCA. Demand may be managed to a certain extent at the operational level; but the way it is met in the longer term, and the question of whether and how it should be limited, are strategic decisions to be taken at the highest level.
21. The separate determination and provision of support for Members through the Office Costs Allowance, and the way in which this is used, is an uncertain factor in the planning of House services.
Broadly in line
22. This provision in the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978 may be interpreted rather more widely than has sometimes been the case, and need not inhibit the following of policies best suited to the House of Commons service.
The need for change
23. Many of the concerns which prompted the Ibbs Review have now been addressed. Levels of satisfaction have increased markedly. There is accelerating progress in other areas. But the status quo is not an option. The process of change needs support or it may falter; demands upon public bodies are now higher than at the time of the Ibbs Review, and aims, accountability and best practice must be demonstrated to a greater extent than ever before; and the House must be in the best possible position to cope with current and likely change, both technological and Parliamentary, and also in wider expectations.
24. Radical change is not necessary and indeed would be counter-productive. Our recommendations will help: underpin improvements, allow better identification and implementation of priorities, achieve best value for money, equip the House to adapt to a changing environment, and ensure that the House is able to resist any external challenge of the way it runs its affairs, or its stewardship of public money.
25. Our recommendations are an integrated package rather than a list of options. Implementation will require commitment on the part of the Commission and senior management, active involvement of staff at all levels, the understanding and support of Members; appreciation of the benefits; realism about the difficulties which will need to be overcome; and milestones for achieving change, regular reporting, and measurement of performance.
26. A change manager should be appointed, reporting through the Clerk to the Speaker as Chairman of the Commission, leading a team of senior officials and drawing on outside professional advice.
27. A review similar to our own should take place in about five years time.