Memorandum by the Refreshment Department
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
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
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 Departmentclerks 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.
Chair, Refreshment Department User Group
21 March 2002