House of Commons Commission - Twenty-fourth Annual Report

Twenty-fourth Annual Report 2001-02

Department of the Serjeant at Arms Annual Report 2001-02

1. Introduction

The Department of the Serjeant at Arms sees its purpose as:
"To provide the best possible service to Members and all those who work in or visit the House of Commons, on the authority of the Speaker and within the regulations of the House".
In addition to his ceremonial duties, the Serjeant at Arms, as Executive Officer of the House, is responsible to the Speaker for all accommodation, with associated services, for IT and communications, and for security and access to the Palace of Westminster and the parliamentary outbuildings. Many of the services are managed on behalf of both Houses. The Department is structured into four Directorates: Operations, Estates, Works Services and Communications, each led by a Director. The Director of Operations is also the Deputy Serjeant at Arms.
During the review period, the Department has focused on five over-arching goals:

  • to strengthen security;

  • to improve facilities and services;

  • to develop information systems;

  • to improve and expand PDVN services; and

  • to strengthen management of departmental resources.

Significant progress has been made in each of these areas by all sections of the Department.

A major feature this year has been the Braithwaite Review of the Governance, Control and Systems of the Department. The agreed recommendations from the report are being implemented in order to strengthen management and control, in line with the House of Commons corporate strategy.

The Serjeant at Arms takes the lead in a number of important activities relating to information systems, contingency planning, operation of the Line of Route and accommodation. These are mentioned in this section, but because of their corporate nature are dealt with at length in the Board of Management chapter.

The contribution that the Department makes to the life and work of the House covers a wide variety of undertakings. It is essential that the quality of support and infrastructure provided is soundly based in all the aspects described above. This is reflected in the Department's aim to provide "the best possible service".

2. Plans and achievements


The security review that followed the events of 11 September 2001 resulted in a range of improvements to the physical and structural security arrangements of the House of Commons. The Serjeant is leading the work on contingency planning already described in the Board of Management chapter (page 22).

2.1 Strengthened Structural Security Measures

A comprehensive project has started in New Palace Yard for completion by the summer of 2002, involving the installation of road blockers and barriers to prevent access by unauthorised or suspect vehicles. The vehicle search point will be moved to a safer location and new facilities will be provided to permit safe access by passholders on foot.

Measures have been taken to protect those working in or visiting the Palace and to provide early warning of any threat. The CCTV coverage has been reviewed, and enhanced by improved and additional cameras. More card readers have been installed on doors throughout the estate to protect access.

2.2 Strengthened Human Security Measures

The prime elements of visible human security are the police and security officers who are provided on contract by the Metropolitan Police. Their total numbers have been increased by the provision of specialist firearms officers who patrol vulnerable locations on the perimeter of and within the House of Commons. The existing police and security establishment has provided more comprehensive checks on vehicles and visitors, as well as carrying out random checks on passes and passholders. The pass system is a fundamental element of parliamentary security, and the Speaker has endorsed the expectation that Members, as well as all staff, should carry passes.

The threat of contamination from anthrax and other biological material has required increased vigilance on the part of all those who work in Parliament. The Royal Mail staff have been concerned to screen all incoming mail, and the police have adopted effective procedures to deal with any potential contamination incidents ­ and there have been many this year.

2.3 Recruitment Of IT Security Officer

The Braithwaite Review recommended that a new and separate IT security post should be created, serving both Houses of Parliament. The requirement for this post has achieved a higher profile in recent months with the threat of international terrorism, the prevalence of computer viruses and the need to prevent computer hacking. The recruitment process for the new post has now commenced, following consultation with the House of Lords and external agencies, and an appointment will be made soon.


2.4 Summer Opening Of The Line Of Route

The 2001 Line of Route opening was a considerable success, as already noted in the Board of Management chapter (page 24). The two Houses have agreed that the summer opening of the Line of Route should be made permanent and a feasibility and cost/benefit study be undertaken into the establishment of a permanent office to book and run tours. The Serjeant's Department is taking the lead in this activity.
The system of an agreed deficit, funded by the UK taxpayer through the House of Commons Vote, will be discontinued. From 2002, ticket prices for visitors will be set at a level to recoup the cost of running the summer opening.

2.5 Accommodation Strategy And Review

As has already been noted in the Board of Management chapter (page 27), the Board has invited the Serjeant to commission an accommodation review of House of Commons areas of the Parliamentary Estate. The review will be conducted in two phases. In the first phase information will be gathered on how space is used. This will include allocation, occupancy rates and style of usage. Benchmark information will be developed on current best practice space utilisation within other parliamentary and government offices and some appropriate private organisations. In the second phase, options will be developed for a future House of Commons space strategy for the period 2003 to 2008.

2.6 Central Provision Of Computer Equipment For Members

In July 2001 the Parliamentary Communications Directorate (PCD) commenced a major new undertaking when it was agreed by the House that each Member of Parliament would be entitled to centrally provided computer equipment free of charge, on loan for Parliamentary use only. The provision allows for up to one laptop, three desktop PCs, two CD-Rewriters and either one or two printers depending on the specification required. Each Member may distribute the provision as necessary between Westminster and their constituency. PCD undertook to implement this major project almost immediately, with the services of a third party supplier, and wrote to newly elected Members during July. In August PCD extended the supply to all the remaining Members of Parliament.

Requests have been processed from 599 Members, and over 1,300 separate installations have taken place, split evenly between Westminster and remote locations. By the end of the financial year PCD were processing the final orders.

2.7 Improvements To Accommodation

Commons Court

The refurbishment project on three floors of the Commons Court block has provided 27 Members' offices with windows, serviced and furnished to the standard of new accommodation elsewhere on the Parliamentary Estate.

Jubilee Visitor Café

The Jubilee Visitor Café provides refreshment and lavatory facilities for visitors to Parliament, with a small area where the proceedings of both Houses are televised and information is displayed. A lift has been installed to take disabled visitors up to the Chamber where the House meets in Westminster Hall or to the Jubilee Room.

St Stephen's Tower

This project involved the renovation and re-modelling of offices on four floors above St Stephen's Entrance. The accommodation at principal and first floor levels has been restored to the 'fine rooms' standard that existed prior to bomb damage during the Second World War. The second and third floor office accommodation, being less ornate, has been refurbished to the normal standard of fully serviced Members' accommodation.

Restoratin work in St. Stephen's Tower

Norman Shaw South

The project to refurbish Norman Shaw South started in early 2001 for completion in autumn 2002, and occupation in early 2003. The recent decision by the House of Commons Commission that Norman Shaw South should be occupied by Members and their staff rather than the Clerk's Department has led to some minor design changes.

7 Millbank works project

Following the move of Members and their staff to Portcullis House, three floors of 7 Millbank (the third, fourth and fifth) were refurbished during the spring and summer of 2001. These have been occupied by the Department of Finance and Administration (which moved from 3 Dean's Yard, now vacated by the House), elements of the Official Report, the Occupational Health and Welfare Service, and the Parliamentary Communications Directorate (which moved from 10 Great George Street, now vacated by the House). In addition, a dedicated training/meeting/interview suite was created on the fifth floor. Some areas were modified to create an open plan layout in order to achieve greater occupancy levels. The scheme has been extremely well received by those occupying the offices and an independent post-project review has confirmed that these works offered good value for money.

PCD project

The occupation of 7 Millbank by departments of the House involved a complex planning exercise in order to ensure that the significant changes to communications and systems infrastructures were managed alongside the logistical and human aspects of the moves, with no interruption to operational responsibilities. The key financial systems and services belonging to the Department of Finance and Administration were relocated without disruption. Good team work and early planning, including additional demands on resources arising from the later than anticipated general election, ensured that all elements were in place as required, within the allocated budget.


Electronic Signs In The Palace Of Westminster

In February 2001 the Administration Committee recommended that electronic signs should become permanent in Central Lobby. A joint project was established with the House of Lords. The results of the first phase of the project can be seen in Central Lobby where information is displayed about public sittings of House of Commons and House of Lords Committees. Planning has commenced to install similar electronic screens inside St Stephen's entrance. The next phase of the project will be to introduce electronic signs on the Committee Corridors in the Palace.

2.9 The House Administrative Information System (HAIS) Project

The Serjeant at Arms is a joint sponsor of the HAIS project with the Director of Finance and Administration. The Department's involvement grew from the need for much better financial and staff information to enable the Serjeant at Arms to exercise effective control of his resources. Additionally, the PHAROAH system, which provides the core IS support to the Estates and Works Services Directorates' operations, is nearing the end of its life and the Department has a requirement to improve its project management capability.

A costed proposal for meeting the Department's requirement using a combination of AGRESSO (which forms the HAIS software) and ARCHIBUS (which forms the core of the Department's computer aided facilities management system) has been received. Timings for the delivery of the various elements of the Department's requirement within the overall HAIS programme are now being agreed.

2.10 Business Systems Group

The Braithwaite review recommended that the Department's information systems should be co-ordinated by a Business Systems Group consisting of a Business Systems Manager from each Directorate, one of whom would be designated as Business Systems Co-ordinator, and the Information Systems Manager from PCD. The purpose of the Business Systems Group is to:

  • produce a co-ordinated three-year strategic plan, and annual IS plans, for the Department;
  • monitor and report to the Serjeant at Arms on the progress of implementing IS plans within the Directorates; and
  • identify ways that technology can improve and support services provided by the Department.


Windows 2000

During the year the Parliamentary Communications Directorate (PCD) developed a strategy for the replacement of the current business operating systems and directory service within Parliament. It was decided that, where practicable, all desktops connected to the Parliamentary Data and Video Network (PDVN) should be upgraded and migrated to the Windows 2000 Operating System and that the current Network Operating System for controlling and managing the PDVN should be migrated to Microsoft's Active Directory Services (ADS).
Implementation of the Windows 2000 strategy will occur during the course of 2002 and 2003. The new environment will offer users up to date technologies with improved stability, flexibility and security, at lower cost. Savings will be achieved through reductions in licensing costs and the consolidation of servers.

2.12 Enhanced Connection To Internet/Improved Remote Access

An interim upgrade to the capacity of the PDVN Internet link from 2mb to 4mb was completed in the spring of 2001, temporarily easing pressure on this service. However, it remained clear that far greater capacity and a higher level of service management was required to support growing demands in this area, including SSRB recommendations to improve Members' remote access to the PDVN. On that basis, plans for a step-increase to 16mb were approved during 2001 and are currently being implemented following a competitive tendering exercise. The new connection, which it is hoped to bring into service during the second quarter of 2002, will allow active bandwidth management as well as further capacity increases if required. Implementation will also underpin the provision of Virtual Private Network connections, which will allow Members to connect to the PDVN using broadband technologies as well as conventional dial-up and ISDN.

2.13 Account Usage

The number of accounts on the Parliamentary network has increased significantly during the year. The primary reason for this has been the implementation of the central provision of computer equipment. The graph below details the number of e-mail and network accounts throughout the calendar year. By April 2002 the number of PDVN users totalled 5,172, an increase of around 1,000 users during the year.

2.14 Internet Usage

The graph below details the e-mail traffic during the calendar year, including mail to and from the Internet. During the year over 11 million e-mails were processed, an increase of 23% over the previous year. The Parliamentary Internet received over 7 million visits and the Parliamentary Intranet received over 800,000 visits during the year.

Mail Flow


Staff Survey

The Serjeant at Arms commissioned Janet Levin Associates to carry out a survey among staff in the Department in November 2001. A summary report has been sent individually to all staff with a covering letter from the Serjeant at Arms and the full report has been sent to senior managers across the Department. All staff have access to the full report, which in general terms was positive about progress made since 1998.
The Serjeant at Arms has published the three main areas for action that he will personally take forward to deal with issues identified by the survey. Heads of Directorates/Units are now working with their senior managers to identify their own action plans.

2.16 Risk Management

The Board of Management has instructed departments to include risk management in all their planning processes in order to minimise the risk of failing to achieve strategic objectives. The Serjeant at Arms has appointed Risk Sponsors from each Directorate to identify the Department's key generic risks. For each risk, factors contributory to failure were examined and assessed and controls and mitigating actions to minimise failure were identified. Performance indicators and measures were also identified that will warn management when further action is needed. Mitigating actions have been included in the business plan. The generic risks affecting the Department that have been agreed by the Serjeant's Management Team (SMT) are:

  • breach in physical security;

  • interruption to the legislative process;

  • failure to recruit, retain and motivate staff with appropriate skills and knowledge; and

  • insufficient probity, rigour and risk management in the procurement process.

These will be reviewed quarterly by the Departmental Risk Sponsors Group and any proposals for revision will be submitted to the SMT for approval.

In addition to this, a cost related risk management process is used in all works projects.

2.17 The Review Of The Serjeant At Arms' Department

Following the Serjeant at Arms' agreement to the recommendations derived from a review of the Department conducted by a team led by Mr Michael Braithwaite, work began in the early part of 2001 on the process of implementing a purchaser/provider division of the Parliamentary Works Directorate and hence the formation of the Parliamentary Estates and Works Services Directorates. The new arrangements for the Estates and Works Services functions were adopted in the spring of 2001, including the revised financial controls and responsibilities. This was carried out in a phased manner in order not to jeopardise the summer 2001 works programme. New Service Level Agreements were agreed and endorsed by the Serjeant at Arms and Black Rod on behalf of the two Houses.

An essential feature of the recommendations was the centralisation and increased professional impact of the central support services (finance, procurement, human resources and IS/IT) which are delivered to all Directorates. This resulted in the establishment of the Serjeant's Finance Unit (SFU) and the creation of a new post of Head of Finance, reporting directly to the Serjeant at Arms and responsible for finance and associated staff across the Department. The recruitment of a Head of Procurement and the development of cross-departmental procurement procedures have strengthened procurement expertise. The Serjeant's Human Resources Unit (SHRU) was formed to include all the Department's human resources staff, who now report to the DEO through an HR Manager.

The Operations Directorate and PCD have been reviewed during the year. Management responsibilities in the Operations Directorate have been rationalised and an Accommodation Services Unit has been formed to manage the accommodation provided to Members and others, the delivery of office and accommodation services and the cleaning services for both Houses. The review of PCD was delayed due to the very high workload on staff in that Directorate and recommendations were not made until October 2001. These recommendations were far-reaching. In outline they include a number which focused on PCD itself to reflect its changing and growing responsibilities:

  • changes to the organisational structure;

  • reviewing and where necessary changing or refining the governance arrangements, to ensure line responsibilities are clear and accountability is matched to those responsibilities;

  • developing the staff model used within PCD; and

  • strengthening strategic and day to day planning and budgeting activities and programme and project management.

There are also Parliament-wide recommendations, which are subject to agreement with stakeholders outside the Serjeant at Arms' Department:

  • the centralisation of the management of IT infrastructure by PCD;

  • the management, rationalisation and, where appropriate, upgrade of servers; and

  • the centralisation and/or integration of Help Desk and Field Engineering services.


These recommendations have been accepted in principle by the PCD Programme Board, which contains senior representatives of both Houses, and they are now being taken forward.

2.18 Improved Management Information/Monthly Management Report

The Serjeant at Arms as Head of Department requires sufficient management information to enable him to monitor key areas of risk and performance and hence help him to meet his corporate responsibilities. Large steps have been made in improving management information by the creation of the Serjeant at Arms' Monthly Management Report.

Michael Cummins

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