Supporting individual Members and their
95. The Serjeant at Arms Department provides many
of the vital support services, including accommodation, IT and
mail, which are essential to the work of Members. The Department
of Finance and Administration administers Members' salaries, allowances
and pensions, supports Members in employing staff, and also oversees
the provision of medical services to Members. The specialist services
provided by the Library to Members are covered in the previous
section (see paragraph 72).
During the year, the Serjeant at Arms Department
let a new contract for the cleaning of public and common areas
of both Houses which will achieve efficiencies of over £100,000
per year (above and right).
Offices and related services
96. The parliamentary estate comprises nine buildings
centred on the Palace of Westminster. The Serjeant at Arms has
the responsibility of providing offices and facilities for almost
4,000 people, including Members and their staff.
97. As well as meeting the daily office requirements
of Members, the Serjeant at Arms Department manages internal,
directly employed, cleaning services for Members' offices and
other areas of the House of Commons. During the year a review
of these services has been completed with the aim of increasing
levels of cleaning productivity, and thus value for money, while
maintaining an equitable employment regime. Following agreement
with the trades unions, the internal workforce is to be reduced
from 61 to 52 by natural turnover.
98. The Department also manages the contract for
the cleaning of the public and common areas of both Houses. A
new contract was let during the period which achieved efficiencies
of over £100,000 per year by combining two major, and a number
of minor, contracts. Since coming into effect the contract has
clarified responsibilities and simplified management.
99. A new contract is being let for photocopiers
provided for the use of Members and their staff. Following discussions
with Members' staff on the photocopier user group, a demonstration
of potential replacements was arranged to which Members and staff
were invited. Feedback was obtained and this is being used in
conjunction with price information to decide on the supplier.
The new machines will be in place by the end of the summer recess.
100. During the past year, a set standard for Members'
and Members' staff office furniture and furnishings has been introduced
and trialled during the re-occupation of the recently refurbished
Norman Shaw South building. The set standard is flexible and will
be reviewed from time to time. The aim is to provide Members and
their staff with appropriate resources to allow them to function
efficiently on the estate while meeting the Serjeant at Arms'
obligation to meet budgetary constraints.
Car and cycle parking
101. The House of Commons' underground car park is
a valuable resource with spaces for 496 vehicles. There is evidence
that usage has recently diminished, which may be due to the introduction
of the congestion charge. The current security climate has prompted
a review of the security arrangements for vehicles, and the car
park area is now patrolled by security officers. The needs of
cyclists have been met by the provision of additional cycle racks
in Star Chamber Court.
102. Mail services are currently provided to Parliament by
Royal Mail. There are three post office counters on the parliamentary
estate and a sophisticated mail delivery service is provided to
meet the requirements of each individual Member. Following representations
from Members, a 7 pm mail collection from all 17 main post boxes
in Parliament was reinstated in October 2003.
103. A project group, led by the Deputy Serjeant
at Arms, has been set up to consider future mail arrangements.
Security considerations require proper off-site screening arrangements,
and negotiations are being conducted with other organisations
with similar requirements to set up joint cost-effective facilities.
Committee and meeting room bookings
104. The Serjeant at Arms' room booking service takes
bookings for all meetings of Committees and All Party Groups,
as well as Members' private meetings and meetings organised by
House staff on official business. There are twenty-two Committee
Rooms, four multi-function rooms and twenty-three smaller meeting
rooms across the parliamentary estate. Between them, the rooms
can provide live television broadcasts, simultaneous translation,
conference, reception and video conferencing facilities. Approximately
1,100 bookings were taken each month the House was sitting during
the report period. Electronic signs have been installed in the
Palace at the pulpits on the Committee Corridors and at access
points to the main corridor. These displays provide current information
for Members, staff and visitors about all Committee meetings and
about private meetings in Committee Rooms.
Members' computing and IT support
105. Computer equipment for Members' offices is funded from
the Members Estimate, but the work involved in identifying and
supplying standard equipment and in connecting it to the Parliamentary
Network falls to the Parliamentary Communications Directorate
(PCD), under a service level agreement. PCD is managed by the
Serjeant's Department and provides services to both Houses. On
the Commons side PCD is funded from the Administration Estimate,
with a small proportion coming from the Members Estimate. PCD
supports a network of approximately 6,000 users in both Houses,
many of whom are based outside Westminster.
106. During 2003/04 a number of important Member-related
IT initiatives have been developed and delivered. These have been
in addition to the normal training of new users of the Parliamentary
Network (1,033 delegates trained) and the supply, set-up and support
of new equipment for Members (630 items delivered and installed).
New developments have included the initiatives detailed below.
107. To improve the service to remote and mobile
workers, a new and improved remote access service has been piloted
and delivered during the year. The service offers broadband access
to the internet and secure encrypted access to the Parliamentary
Network and runs on the standard parliamentary computers that
are either loaned to, or purchased by, Members. Take-up of the
service was optional and by the end of January - the planned end-date
for the project - 310 Members had taken advantage of the new service;
converting a total of 646 PCs. For users in areas where broadband
is available, the new service is reported to be a marked improvement
on the previous remote access service.
108. In addition to the above, PCD has also piloted
a remote access service that can provide secure access to the
Parliamentary Network from any internet-ready PC, anywhere in
the world. This will be particularly useful for Members who are
working away from Westminster, their constituency or indeed their
home. The service is expected to be announced and launched in
Management of electronic information
109. Members now have improved access to corporate
storage facilities for their electronic information. This has
the benefit of ensuring that data is properly backed-up and easily
retrieved in the event of accidental loss. The service takes advantage
of a new parliamentary back-up service that PCD has introduced
during 2003/04 known as VBAC, which avoids the use of traditional
tapes and offers much higher levels of service than the previous
method could provide.
110. Last year's report referred to the interim measures
being taken to provide some relief to the small number of Members
and their staff who receive large quantities of unwanted email,
known as spam. Whilst those measures provided some temporary relief,
the problem continues to be a significant irritant for many. With
the support of the Information Committee, PCD is currently in
the process of procuring a new spam management service and aims
to implement it in summer 2004. In the meantime, guidance has
been issued to help mitigate the problem at a local level.
Customer services and training
111. IT-related customer services for Members and
their staff were further developed in 2003/04. Targeted surveys
of the top twenty, and twenty least frequent, callers of the PCD
Helpdesk have been undertaken and very helpful feedback received.
This, taken with PCD's existing "Drop-in" centre, regular
newsletters and one-to-one meetings with customers, demonstrates
PCD's commitment to developing and maintaining excellent communications
with those who use its services.
112. In the autumn of 2003 a new training service
was launched for Members' staff, which includes IT training. The
actual training and administration of the service is undertaken
by a third party company and has the advantage of being able to
offer training sessions away from Westminster. This is seen as
a particularly important development since it is often very difficult
for Members' staff who work in constituencies to find the time
to travel to attend relatively short training sessions. The service
is in its early stages and will be developed further, possibly
to include computer based training and training over the internet.
113. The Parliamentary Network is now extremely reliable,
as the following chart shows.
A major upgrade was undertaken over the summer of 2003 to improve
reliability and availability still further, and to enable future
IT requirements to be supported. Upgrades to the main telephone
switches were also successfully undertaken during the year.
Members' salaries, allowances and pensions
114. Members' salaries, allowances and pensions
are paid from the Members Estimate and administered by the Department
of Finance and Administration (DFA). The Estimate has separate
governance arrangements from the House's administrative expenditure,
and is reported on separately. The annual accounts for 2003/04,
which will contain further information, will be published in the
are entitled to a range of parliamentary allowances including
a staffing allowance, an incidental expenses provision and an
allowance for overnight stays away from their main home. They
are also provided with centrally-purchased computer equipment
on loan (see paragraph 105).
115. A major development during the year was the
establishment of the Members Estimate Committee, to oversee the
policy relating to Members' allowances, on 29 January 2004. The
Advisory Panel on Members' Allowances, which was established in
2001 to advise on the application and development of the new allowances
system, now primarily provides advice to the new Committee.
ADVICE TO MEMBERS
116. DFA has continued to develop its advice-giving
services in order to inform Members of their entitlements to pay
and allowances. The Green Book was revised and issued to all Members
in July 2003. Guidance is given on personnel issues through the
Personnel Advice Service. Financial budget statements on the staffing
allowance and the incidental expenses provision have been issued
to Members during 2003/04. The department has also continued to
publish factsheets and booklets for Members in order to inform
them about their entitlements. These are available both in hard
copy and on the intranet. Early in 2004/05 weekly events for Members
and their staff are being held in the e-Library in Portcullis
House during the parliamentary term on a wide variety of topics
ranging from Freedom of Information to the implications of the
Disability Discrimination Act.
117. One of the future developments of the HAIS 2
project (see paragraph 199 and page 57) is to explore the potential
for Members to have secure access to their own financial and HR
118. The number of paid Members' staff increased
by seven per cent to 2,446 at the year end, as shown in the chart
below. Not all Members' staff work on the parliamentary estate,
but the continuing increase in the number of Members' staff (unpaid,
as well as paid) puts pressure on a range of services, particularly
accommodation and catering in Westminster, unless more choose
to work principally in the constituency (see paragraph 29).
Medical services for Members
119. An increasing range of medical services is provided
by the House Service for Members. A new acute GP service, for
use by Members and Peers unable to access their own GP, was established
in December 2003, in partnership with a local surgery, for a six
month trial period. Confidential medical assessments for Members
have been expanded to encompass cardiac risk lifestyle screening,
following a successful trial. This is also available to House
staff aged over 55. Other services provided for Members are advice
on health and safety matters including training for their staff.
A minor treatment service is available to Members and all those
working on and visiting the parliamentary estate (see paragraphs
An increasing range of medical services are available
for Members, including confidential medical assessments and a
trial GP service.
15 In the chart, figures are based on total working
hours during the year and degraded service is counted as unavailable Back
The accounts for 2002/03 were published in December 2003, HC 68,