House of Commons Commission - Twenty-Third Annual Report


Report by the Board of Management

Membership[3] and duties

1.Sir William McKay KCB Chief Executive, Chairman of the Board of Management
Charles Winnifrith CB Clerk of Committees, representing the Department of the Clerk of the House
Michael Cummins Serjeant at Arms
Priscilla Baines Librarian
Andrew Walker Director of Finance and Administration
Ian Church Editor of the Official Report
Sue Harrison Director of Catering Services
2.The duties of the Board of Management are set by the House of Commons Commission in an Instrument of Delegation which was revised on 24 July 2000 to reflect decisions taken on recommendations contained in the Review of Management and Services: Report to the House of Commons Commission of July 1999 (the "Braithwaite report").[4] The Board exercises the functions of employer of House staff on behalf of the Commission[5] and is responsible for ensuring that conditions of service conform to the requirements of the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978.
3.The Board also has a responsibility to co-ordinate matters relating to the services provided for the House of Commons by the House departments and to advise both the House of Commons Commission and the Finance and Services Committee on these matters. It considers and approves draft Estimates for expenditure on House administration before these are submitted to the Finance and Services Committee and the Commission. Decisions by the Board on expenditure are subject to the control of the Clerk of the House as Accounting Officer.
4.Following the reorganisation of the office of Speaker's Counsel, the Board now has continuous access to legal advice from the Legal Services Office.
5.The members of the Board are the heads of the six House departments, and the Clerk of Committees, Clerk's Department. Mr Charles Winnifrith CB joined the Board in October 2000 in fulfilment of the Braithwaite recommendation that the Clerk of the House, as Chief Executive, should be freed from the responsibility of representing his own Department.
6.Mr Winnifrith retired shortly after the end of the financial year after long and distinguished service to the House and has been replaced on the Board by Mr George Cubie.
7.During the year the Board also expressed its gratitude to Brian Wilson CBE, who served as Secretary to the Board of Management until May 2000 and who has also now retired. In accordance with another Braithwaite recommendation, the Board is now supported by the new Office of the Clerk, headed by Dr Richard Ware.
Strategic planning

8.A central recommendation of the Braithwaite report was that the Board of Management should move to a more corporate model of governance. While each member of the Board remains responsible for the delivery of services to the House by a particular department, considerable progress was made during 2000-01 towards a strong corporate overview. In particular, the Board made sure that the work of inter-departmental committees was more co-ordinated and purposeful.
9.Another specific Braithwaite recommendation was that "The Commission should consider and approve a strategic plan as a framework within which the Board of Management can work".[6] Once adopted by the Commission, the strategic plan was to be updated annually. Until now business planning has taken place mainly at the level of individual departments of the House.
10.During 2000-01 the Board of Management and other senior officials considered in some depth how a more strategic approach might work in practice and prepared to submit detailed proposals to the Commission at the beginning of the 2001 Parliament. The proposals built on the work of the various inter-departmental groups as described below and on the emergent themes set out in the annex to the Twenty-second Annual Report.[7] External advice has been sought where appropriate.
Management information

11.As an aid to strategic planning and control the Board of Management now considers a quarterly financial report along with key corporate activity measures and informs the Commission of any significant trends or variances that require action. The Board has also decided to develop a Resource Investment Strategy from 2001-02.
Levels of activity

12.As the reports of individual departments indicate, this was another busy year for the services supporting the work of the House of Commons. The House sat on 159 days during the financial year and on 99 of these there were sittings of the parallel Chamber in Westminster Hall. There were also high levels of committee activity - 1,104 meetings of select committees (investigations and scrutiny) and 450 sittings of standing committees (legislation and debates on matters referred). All of this activity placed demands not only on procedural and administrative services, but also on the Official Report and the shorthand writers and on information services, catering and security. The opening of Portcullis House (see below) meant that in addition to normal services there were numerous office moves to be organised, with implications for telephones, IT support, furniture and other facilities. Full details of performance against targets may be found in the departmental reports.
Opening of Portcullis House

13.Portcullis House opened when the House returned from the summer recess in October 2000. This followed years of planning by departments, initially quite separately within their own specialisms and latterly in progressively closer co-operation in order to prepare, open and operate Portcullis House smoothly for Members, their staff and visitors. This was the first purpose-built parliamentary building to be designed, constructed and occupied since the completion of the Palace of Westminster in the mid- nineteenth century. It contains offices for 210 MPs, a floor of committee and conference rooms offering improved access for members of the public, and a wide range of other facilities.
The Courtyard in Portcullis House.
14.This meant not only that the building itself had to be brought into use in an efficient manner, but also that it had to be integrated into the existing parliamentary estate, including the adjacent Norman Shaw buildings, 1 Parliament Street and the Derby Gate building. Led by staff of the Serjeant's Department, this required a high level of co-operation between all the departments of the House.
15.Planning for the design and construction of Portcullis House has been described in previous reports of the House of Commons Commission. Planning for the occupation of the building began early in 2000 with regular inter-departmental meetings. Since the emphasis was to be on a seamless and co-ordinated service for all users of the building, the plans of individual offices and departments were gradually merged into a detailed project plan with synchronised timings. Telephone numbers were allocated, advice on relocation was shared and moving dates were scheduled to dovetail into the overall move plan.
16.The 'Welcome to Portcullis House' guide was devised and developed by the Planning Group, with contributions from all sections of the departments involved. Information about Portcullis House was also placed on the parliamentary Intranet.
17.A dry-run 'Portcullis House Experience' day was held in early September. Staff who were to administer the building were given simulated problems to solve that were likely to occur during the period of occupation. As a result some problems were dealt with in anticipation, and staff were better prepared to cope with the inevitable unexpected issues that arose once occupation got underway.
18.The first occupants of the new building were the Royal Mail staff who moved into the new mail processing area during August/September 2000. The first Members and their staff moved into their new offices during September. The various areas around the Courtyard opened during October and November, with the new restaurant and cafeteria and the e-Library offering their services in time for the State Opening of Parliament. The building was fully occupied by mid-December.
19.The final task was to prepare for the official opening of Portcullis House by Her Majesty The Queen on 27 February 2001. Once again, careful planning and a high level of inter-departmental co-operation were needed to make sure that everything ran smoothly on the day.
Accommodation strategy

20.During the past year the Accommodation Strategy Working Group has carried out a review of the accommodation occupied by departments of the House within the Palace of Westminster in response to a request from the Accommodation and Works Committee. This review demonstrated that, without fundamental restructuring of departmental operations, it is not presently possible to provide additional accommodation for Members within the Palace.
21.The Working Group has developed a model which can be used to cost the space occupied by departments and others on the Parliamentary Estate. This work feeds directly into the Board of Management's strategic planning.
22.The Working Group has begun a review of the House's current accommodation strategy with the aim of updating it to reflect new technology and changing expectations following the occupation of Portcullis House and rationalisation of the parliamentary estate.
Preparations for the General Election

23.In 1997 House departments adopted a more co-ordinated approach to the process of introducing new Members to the services provided by the House administration than had been achieved in the past. In December 1999 a group of officials suggested, and the Board endorsed, a seamless approach. Four linked inter-departmental groups were set up. These worked throughout the year to ensure that arrangements were in place in time for the earliest likely date of an election. The groups were:
  • the Co-ordinating Group, responsible for general oversight of arrangements and for dealing with topics not covered elsewhere;
  • a group which carried out a full revision of the Members' Handbook;
  • a group which oversaw the making of an introductory video One day in Westminster; and
  • a group responsible for planning a Reception Area for new Members offering information and assistance about all House services.
By the end of the financial year the groups' work was substantially complete, but final tasks awaited the announcement of the election date.
Personnel matters

24.House-wide personnel issues are co-ordinated by the Planning and Management Committee (PMC). It is chaired by the Director of Finance and Administration and is attended by Establishments Officers from House departments, the Director of Personnel Policy and a representative of the Office of the Clerk. The Committee carried out planning and co-ordination of a range of management issues on behalf of the Board of Management, in particular in the human resources area. The PMC forms the official management side of the General Purposes Sub-Committee that met the Trade Union side three times during the year.
25.It oversaw the development and implementation of pay and personnel policies and practices that are appropriate to the needs of the House, while maintaining terms and conditions of service which are broadly in line with the Home Civil Service. Following a decision of the House of Commons Commission, the House has abolished the general rule that its administrative and managerial posts must be held by British nationals.
26.During the year the committee has also considered:
  • human resource issues relating to the new staff handbook, childcare arrangements and the introduction of a summer play scheme, Equal Opportunities Policy and training, harassment procedures, management of attendance policy, IT/IS job titles and profiles, grievance procedures, Annual Reporting Appeals procedures, the impact of employment legislation such as the Working Time Directive;
  • health and safety matters including a proposed future audit of stress in both Houses, provision of personal alarms for staff, and ill-health retirement; and
  • other more general issues such as the role of the Departmental Establishments Officer, the planned provision of common services for staff working in 7 Millbank and the implementation of the Braithwaite Review.
27.The Committee made recommendations on key issues to the Board of Management (and, where appropriate, the House of Commons Commission) for decision, and took responsibility for implementation.
28.During 2000-01 several more House departments achieved accreditation as "Investors in People". Once the process is complete, the Board of Management plans to move towards accreditation on a House-wide basis.
29.At the request of the House of Commons Commission the Board also organised a comprehensive programme of training to raise awareness of principles, law and best practice in the area of equal opportunities and diversity. The training was carried out with the help of external advisers.
Financial policy

30.The Board of Management devoted considerable attention to the monitoring and planning of expenditure on the House of Commons Administrative Expenditure vote. It was assisted in this by the Planning and Management Committee (Finance) PMC(F) which brings together Departmental Finance Officers and appropriate staff of the Finance and Administration Department and the Office of the Clerk.
31.The House of Commons Administrative Expenditure Vote is not cash-limited, nor subject to government direction, but the Board has sought to apply strict financial and management disciplines in proposing expenditure to the House of Commons Commission. Provision of £151 million had originally been made for 2000-01, but it became necessary to request a Supplementary Estimate to cover the legal settlement for the Harmon CFEM Facades case and additional costs falling into this period in connection with Portcullis House (a combination of carry over from 1999-2000 and accelerated progress in billing). These exceptional costs apart, outturn for 2000-01 was close to target. Given that the House administration has to respond continuously to the needs of the House, precise forecasting can be problematic, but the Board has made considerable progress already in manpower planning and hopes to make further improvements in 2001-02.
32.PMC(F) also oversaw and co-ordinated the process of business planning, including manpower and financial plans, for the annual 3-year forward planning exercise and the preparation of the Estimates. There were a number of significant developments in this area during 2000-01:
  • the committee reviewed the planning timetable and confirmed the preference for the "PES-based" 3-year planning model under which the plans are considered by the Board and the Commission in the summer;
  • the manpower planning system was developed from the pilot project undertaken in 1999-2000 to be a full part of the business planning exercise;
  • as part of the year 2000 exercise Departments were asked to provide lists of proposed major projects, underpinning business plans, to help improve cash flow forecasting;
  • the Committee reviewed bids for the provision of funds from the Reserve, and provided advice for the Director of Finance and Administration and the Accounting Officer; and
  • the Committee also contributed to the development of policy in areas such as performance measurement, resource accounting and budgeting, resource investment strategy, procurement, business case procedures and demand management.
Information Systems and Information Technology

33.The Information Systems Steering Group (ISSG) is chaired by the Director of Finance and Administration. Its membership consists of officials from the departments of the House with responsibilities for providing effective and efficient systems to enable them to carry out their duties and for delivering information to Members and others concerned with the work of Parliament.
Screen view of Hansard text.
34.The major task of the Group this year has been to take forward IS strategy, in the light of ongoing work on the strategic plan (see strategic planning above). Further work was commis-sioned from consultants and, after dialogue with the House of Lords, an outline strategy was endorsed by the Board in March 2001. Meanwhile the first steps were taken, in conjunction with the House of Lords, towards recruiting a small in-house team of information architecture and systems specialists to take forward work in this area in 2001-2. Progress has also been made through the establishment of project boards on the redesign of the Parliamentary web site; a new Parliamentary Information Management System (PIMS) which, among other functions, will supersede the Library-based POLIS; the replacement/upgrade of the network operating systems and the development, by the Department of Finance and Administration and the Serjeant at Arms Department, of a core administrative system (including payroll and personnel functions).
35.An IT security policy submitted by ISSG was also agreed by the Board of Management and appropriate guidelines for staff of the House incorporated into the revised staff handbook issued in 2000. Corresponding statements and guidelines have been drafted for consideration by the Information Committee and the House of Lords in order that security policies can be applied Parliament-wide.
36.The Board of Management has continued to work with the House of Lords on the Information Technology Strategy Board (ITSB) to monitor the shared network infra-structure and oversee projects in this area. These include proposals for the development of a critical network. The Parliamentary Communications Directorate, which serves both Houses, has succeeded in maintaining high levels of network stability and availability.
37.The Records Management Programme led by the Parliamentary Archives was launched in April 2000. Policy Guidelines on best practice in records management were distributed to all staff in May 2000, providing the basis for improving the House's record-keeping over the next three years. A corporate file classification, which will enable retention schedules to be developed for all the records the House creates, will be implemented in 2001. The Document Management Systems Group reported on implementing electronic records management in document management systems used by the Commons, and this report was approved by the ITSB in March 2001.
Printing and publishing

38.The Printing and Publishing Management Group (PPMG) has a remit which covers:
  • the negotiation and oversight of the House's contracts for printing, electronic publishing, publishing administration, and document sale and distribution;
  • co-ordination of the activities of the House departments in relation to printing and publication; and
  • co-ordination of policy in relation to Parliamentary Copyright.
Its membership during 2000-2001 comprised the Clerk of the Journals (who is the House's copyright officer), the Editor of the Official Report, the Director of Finance and Administration, the Director of Library Resources, the Deliverer of the Vote and the Clerk of Legislation, who was the group's Chairman.
39.The new contracts for printing, publishing and electronic publication services, which were awarded to The Stationery Office Ltd. (TSO) during 1999-2000, came into effect on 1 April 2000. By the end of the year it was clear that the saving attributable to the printing contract would match the anticipated figure of around £2 million p.a., even though page numbers for several categories of House documents (particularly Hansard) have exceeded the ranges predicted at the time the contract was negotiated. This is due in part to the complex "smoothing mechanism" set out in the contract, which provides that the House pays a lower price per page for pages above the predicted ranges. It is also due to a continued expansion in the House's use of electronic methods for the delivery of copy to TSO, reducing the requirement on TSO to key text prior to printing it.
40.House officials have now embarked on a phased programme to extend the use of electronic copy delivery methods to the different sections of the Vote Bundle. A business case for this project was approved by the Accounting Officer in May 2000, and the first substantial phase of the project, covering Early Day Motions, went live in April 2001. For the next phase of the project (Parliamentary Questions), the requirement for inputting staff will increase considerably. With the approval of the Accounting Officer, the Group is entering into negotiations with TSO for the provision of this inputting capacity. The overall gains in efficiency resulting from the avoidance of duplicated keyboarding and the establishment of a Vote Bundle database under the House's direct control are expected to amount to at least £500,000 p.a. when the project is completed in 2004-05.
41.PPMG has also established a sub-group (the Electronic Publishing Review Group), chaired by the Editor of the Official Report, with the primary remit "to review arrangements for the electronic publication and archiving of House of Commons documents and other material and the House's policy in relation to Parliamentary Copyright, as these are set out in the First Report of the Information Committee, Session 1995-96". The Review group plans to make recommendations to PPMG by the 2001 summer recess, for eventual onward transmission to the Information Committee.
Information for the Public

42.The Group on Information for the Public (GIP) continued to develop and co-ordinate a strategy to improve the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of the information and access provided by the House to those outside Parliament. This includes both the 'general' public and those with specific or specialised needs. The overall aim is to improve public understanding and knowledge of the work of the House and to increase its accessibility, reflecting both the House's duty to make its work available and its interest in strengthening public understanding and support for its activities. This aim has been supported by the Modernisation Committee and specific improvements to facilities for the media recommended by the Administration Committee were implemented during the year.[8]
43.A Communications Adviser has been appointed to provide in-house expertise in media relations and advice to House departments on the presentation to the public of their work, as well as providing assistance at a senior level in the development of public information services. An operational review of the House of Commons Information Office has been carried out and, as a result, a number of improvements to services and internal mechanisms supporting them have been put in place. Following that, a review of the Palace of Westminster Communications Bureau - the switchboard - took place; a number of recommendations designed to provide a more efficient service and promote closer working with the Information Offices of both Houses are being implemented.
44.Towards the end of the financial year, a major audit of the written information provided by the House to the public was completed. This has resulted in a substantial programme of work designed to promote an increasingly corporate approach to the compilation and dissemination of information about the House and the progress of business. Now under way, this programme will result in better focused and more efficiently produced information available for the public both in print and via the Parliament website, including a glossary of Parliament linked to the planned redesign of the website.
45.Specifications have been drawn up for information provision for the new Visitor Cafeteria off Westminster Hall and a small exhibition about Parliament has been mounted, jointly with London Underground, in Westminster Station.
Freedom of Information Act

46.The Freedom of Information Act received Royal Assent in November 2000, and is expected to be brought into force in the course of 2002. The Act applies to both Houses of Parliament (although there is a specific exemption for parliamentary privilege). A group of officials from a number of departments has been developing policy on the implementation of the Act in the House; a parallel group has been working in the House of Lords, and information and ideas are being shared between them. A Freedom of Information Officer is to be appointed who will work closely with the Group and the Information Commissioner on creating systems and guidance for dealing with requests for information under the Act. The Freedom of Information Act will also have the effect of applying the Data Protection Act to the House of Commons, and the Group has been considering some of the implications of this, while House departments are overhauling policies and procedures to ensure that they are compliant with the Data Protection requirements.
Office of the Clerk

47.The Office of the Clerk has worked closely with the implementation manager for the Braithwaite review and will assume responsibility for the small number of matters still outstanding at the beginning of the new Parliament. The Office has carried out a review of inter-departmental committees and mechanisms on behalf of the Board of Management, with the result that a leaner and more coherent structure will be put in place in the coming year. It will also take responsibility for improving the dissemination of information about the administration of the House to Members and staff.
Outlook for 2001-02

48.The calling of a general election in June 2001 will affect House of Commons administration and services in a number of different ways. Levels of activity in some areas are likely to be significantly lower by comparison with financial year 2000-01, if only because of the hiatus caused by dissolution and the time needed to re-establish committees and legislative timetables in the new Parliament. On the other hand, the arrival of a new cohort of Members and their staff and the reallocation of offices after the election will cause additional work in other areas.
49.The Board of Management intends to continue its programme of improvements to corporate governance with further work on resource investment strategy, risk management and statements of internal control. A Director of Procurement will be appointed to co-ordinate procurement policy and advice. The Board also intends to review manpower planning and internal communications, and to develop a more corporate approach to recruitment and staff development. Other developments will follow from the adoption of the strategic plan and from the requirement to remain broadly in line with terms and conditions of employment in the civil service.

William McKay

3   At 31 March 2001. Back

4   HC (1998-99) 745. Back

5   With the exception of a small number of specified posts and subject to the procedures agreed by both sides of the Whitley Committee. Back

6   Paragraph 15.7. Back

7   HC (2000-01) 808. Back

8   First Report of the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons, Facilities for the Media, HC (1999-2000) 408. Back

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Prepared 17 July 2001