Select Committee on Catering Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the Refreshment Department User Group


  Thank you for your letter of 15 February 2002 inviting submissions to the Catering Committee inquiry. The Refreshment Department User Group is very grateful for this opportunity to give evidence on behalf of staff using the Refreshment Department services, and would welcome the further opportunity to give oral evidence to amplify the views and suggestions set out in this written submission.

  The Refreshment Department User Group represents the staff of all Departments of the House of Commons, as well as Members' staff through the Secretaries and Assistant's Council (SAAC) and the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU). In total, this means that the group represents the interests of over 3,000 staff employed in the House of Commons, many of whom work long hours and can rightfully expect to have access to catering facilities not just as a convenience or "perk", but as a basic and fundamental need in order to do their job.

  Our key concern is the pressure at peak times on the cafeteria services provided by the Department, particularly in the Terrace Cafeteria, but increasingly in Portcullis House and the other outbuildings. Staff frequently experience difficulty in gaining access to the cafeteria services from 12.30 pm-2 pm and again from 6 pm-7 pm. Not only is queuing a frequent problem (particularly for staff who have a restricted meal break time), but having obtained food, there is often nowhere to sit and eat. Quite simply, the capacity of the cafeterias is not great enough to cope with demand at peak times. Whilst Thursday evenings and Fridays are not generally a problem, overcrowding in the cafeterias can be just as bad during the recess as it is when the House is sitting.

  We recognise that the resources of the Refreshment Department are finite, and having concluded that if there is little opportunity to build and open new, additional cafeterias in the short term, we list below some suggestions on how some of these difficulties might be overcome:

  1.  Remove the partition in the Terrace Cafeteria to maximise seating capacity for all users. We wonder whether some alternative provision could be made for Members wishing to have a quick, convenient and good value meal in the Palace of Westminster? For example, could the lunch service in the Members' Dining Room, which we understand is very under-subscribed, be changed to provide something that would draw Members away from the Terrace Cafeteria, or could the Churchill Room be converted into a Members' Cafeteria at lunchtimes?

  2.  Create a new coffee/sandwich bar somewhere close to the Terrace Cafeteria to draw the "take-away" business and, hence, alleviate queuing at peak times. The Despatch Box is a very welcome addition in Portcullis House, and we believe that something similar could be created in a modest space and at modest cost within the Palace.

  3.  The Clerks Department—clerks of non-Officer status, when on division duty, are restricted to using the Terrace Cafeteria, because they have to be within earshot (two minutes) of the Division Lobbies. Could a table be set aside for them within the Members' Tea Room, or could they be given access rights when on duty to use the Dining Rooms on the Principal Floor? Approximately two such staff are on duty at any one time.

  4.  The introduction of a discounted price structure to encourage demand for catering services outside peak times could help to spread demand for the catering services. The group would not welcome the introduction of increased prices as a method of managing demand for catering services.

  5.  We are concerned that when the refurbishment to the Norman Shaw South building is complete, demand for catering services will not be able to be met within the existing facilities, particularly in Portcullis House and 1 Parliament Street. The group offers as a possible solution the change of use of Bellamy's Clubroom into a sandwich bar/coffee shop venue offering access to all pass holders. Similarly to investigate the feasibility to convert Bellamy's souvenir kiosk into a sandwich/deli bar.

  6.  To allow pass holders access to the Terrace Pavilion throughout the week from Easter until the Summer recess to relieve demand on the Terrace Cafeteria.

  7.  To allow staff of the House access to the Strangers' Dining Room on a Thursday evening. This would be a welcome privilege for staff that would also benefit the Refreshment Department by creating business at a very quiet time.

  8.  Give priority to House of Commons staff over House of Lords staff and Civil servants. We recognise that this would be potentially divisive and difficult for the Refreshment Department to police. However, the cost of providing a security officer to check passes during peak times would be much less than the cost of opening new catering facilities.

  We recognise that some of these suggestions might appear to "rob Peter to pay Paul", but we table them for discussion in a constructive spirit. We recognise the needs of Members, but as the Refreshment Department User Group we believe that it is our role to represent the needs of staff. We hope that the Catering Committee will consider them in this light, and we would be pleased to help this important inquiry in any way that we can.

  Please do not hesitate to contact me if you require clarification on any of the above points and we look forward to exploring these ideas further with the Committee.

Della Herd
Chair, Refreshment Department User Group

21 March 2002

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