197. All four core tasks involve the management of
staff and of financial resources. All those working on the parliamentary
estate, in whatever capacity, require refreshment and other facilities.
While some services, such as the Travel Office and cash machines,
are provided by outside agencies, a wide range of 'back office'
services and facilities are provided by the departments of the
House. This section also covers essential estate management functions,
such as fire safety and energy conservation.
Payroll, pensions and financial management
198. The Department of Finance and Administration's (DFA) core
services include financial, payroll, pension, personnel, corporate
training, occupational health, safety and welfare, procurement
and internal review services.
199. The finance modules of the new House Administrative
Information System (HAIS) were introduced to users in DFA and
the Serjeant at Arms Department. This builds on the previous successful
implementation of the payroll and personnel elements of the new
system, creating a base for providing better quality management
information and improved services. The next three years will see
aspects of HAIS extended to additional users across the House
so that Members, their staff and House departments can have swifter
access to the finance and personnel information they require to
support their work.
200. During 2003/04, the House employed, on average,
1,517 full-time equivalent staff. Their distribution by department
is shown in the chart below.
201. Following the successful introduction of the
new computer system for managing staff pensions, and new pensions
arrangements which have been offered to House staff, the costs
and viability of alternative options for the future administration
of the pension scheme for House staff will be considered early
202.Over 79 per cent of invoices presented against
the Administration Estimate were paid within 30 working days of
the invoice date in 2003/04.
203. The House aims to support working parents. Childcare
vouchers are offered to help House staff with the cost of caring
for their children while they are at work. 125 staff took advantage
of this during the year. Following a decision of the Commission,
the voucher scheme has been extended to cover all children under
12, and the rate payable has been increased, with effect from
the start of 2004/05. The House also offered a summer holiday
playscheme in conjunction with a local community centre. This
provided up to ten places per week for school age children whose
parents work in Parliament.
Human resources and training
204. DFA provides services and advice
on human resources and training and development issues and in
most cases manages the processes for recruitment and promotion
within the House service. Staff movement in the House has increased,
with a greater number of staff moving between departments. External
recruitment has increased considerably during the financial year
and various initiatives have been introduced to speed up the process
and increase the diversity of the workforce. On average, the personnel
office deals simultaneously with 58 recruitment competitions.
The department supported 169 internal recruitment exercises and
95 external ones during the year: the chart below shows how this
compares with previous years.
205. DFA organised 60 corporate learning courses
and 24 management seminars throughout 2003/04, covering a range
of topics relevant to House staff, and a total of 1,360 delegate
places were allocated. This year, 126 people attended the newly
introduced 'Helping you to get that job' staff development programme,
designed to equip House staff with the skills and abilities to
apply for transfer and promotion opportunities.
206. Departmental reviews and change programmes within the
House have prompted a need for greater attention to be paid to
the issue of internal communications. The Internal Communications
Manager has been providing advice and assistance to departments
and project teams, emphasising the importance of planning communication
In House magazine is distributed
to all staff.
207. One of the main methods used for communicating
to all staff is the staff magazine, In House. The magazine
has been in production for just over a year, and features corporate,
departmental and social news.
208. In addition, an Internal Communications Forum
has been created to enable staff with internal communication responsibilities
within their departments to share best practice and experiences.
A number of departments now have their own newsletters and communications
events, such as conferences. External speakers, from the financial
and non-profit sectors, have also addressed the group on change
communication and intranets. The House's second management conference
was held in October 2003, with the theme 'Maximising Performance
in a Demanding Environment'. This year, two senior manager events
will be held in the autumn instead of one, enabling a wider range
of issues to be discussed.
209. The content of departmental intranet sites continues
to grow and new useful facilities are being developed and added.
Last year intranet sites received over 6.75 million hits compared
to three million the previous year. A new project, known as the
Web Centre project, is being established to ensure that the House's
intranet development work has focus, avoids duplication and that
progress is made towards the convergence of existing intranets
into one, easily-navigable, Parliament-wide site. Communicating
more effectively with all staff using the intranet will be a priority
in the coming year and a staff entry page is currently being developed,
which will allow staff to access information relevant to them
more easily and quickly.
210. The Plans for the Future section of last
year's report referred to the need to develop agreed information
standards in order to achieve interoperability between information
systems across both Houses of Parliament - a key point in the
Information Systems Strategy. Such standards may be technical
(for example, allowing information to be passed between systems
without the need for re-keying) or they may relate to the way
in which data content and formal context is recorded, allowing
rapid searching, retrieval and, in the future, electronic records
management. Like other organisations, the two Houses are keen
to conform to national or international standards where these
are relevant, but also to set the standards as far as "parliamentary
information" is concerned.
211. Significant strides were made in this complex
area during 2003/04. Much of the detailed work was done in the
context of the PIMS and Vote Bundle projects (see paragraphs 83-4
and 93-4). A Parliament-wide project board co-ordinated this work
with other areas, promoted common solutions for "core data"
such as lists of Members and constituencies, oversaw the codification
of technical standards, and worked to raise awareness of the importance
of the issue in all those responsible for holding and managing
information on behalf of Parliament. The work will continue into
2004/05 with the creation of a standards office, the formal agreement
of a detailed set of data standards and further development work
Occupational health, safety and welfare
212. Medical services are provided by the in-house
Occupational Health Service, supported by physicians supplied
under contract by Guy's and St. Thomas' Hospital Trust. The Service
provides a management referral and employee self-referral service
for departments of both Houses on matters relating to long- and
short-term sickness absence. Other support activities are
also provided where illness or injury may affect staff while at
work, including physiotherapy, health surveillance, health promotions
and a walk-in treatment and advice service.
213. The year has seen further growth in the use
of the services available and the continued development and implementation
of best practice. The range of services has widened alongside
improved publicity and better targeting of the style of service
delivery towards the needs of clients. This has resulted
in an increased take up of proactive services such as health screening.
The increases in referrals also reflect a greater willingness
by management to seek help and support when managing sickness
absence and trying to minimise the impact of ill health on the
business of the two Houses. Greater use of the services is
viewed as a positive trend which will manifest itself in a healthier
and more productive workforce. Some key activity measures are
shown in the following chart.
214. The Welfare Service provides advice and counselling
services to staff of both Houses in relation to financial, health,
bereavement, domestic and work-related issues. It also provides
support to managers to resolve difficult staffing situations. The
Welfare Service handled 614 cases in 2003/04, of which 296 were
new, an increase of 27.4 per cent on the previous year. Additionally
there have been a number of successful initiatives to improve
the personal safety of staff.
215. Health and safety practitioners continue to
provide advice and support to departments and the Health and Safety
Committees of both Houses on all relevant aspects of the law,
and good working practices. A total of 289 incidents were
reported during the year, 27 of which were reportable to the Health
and Safety Executive. Action to reduce the number of such
incidents includes enhanced health and safety training. 41 courses
were run during the year, attracting 375 attendees.
216. There are now 162 trained first aiders working
for the two Houses, with 76 of them also trained to use the ten
defibrillators available on the estate. The number of blood
donor sessions per year has increased and resulted in 364 acts
of donation during the year, an increase of 23.8 per cent
on last year.
217. Membership of the Westminster gym, a private
facility provided under contract to the two Houses, is stable,
but the total number of visits jumped by 32.0 per cent to 47,269
in 2003/04, reflecting an increase in the number of regular users.
218. The House of Commons Refreshment
Department provides catering and retail services for Members of
Parliament, staff and visitors to the parliamentary estate. Retail
and merchandising activities are reported elsewhere in this report
(see paragraphs 145-49). The department operates a wide range
of catering services located in the Palace of Westminster, Portcullis
House and two other parliamentary buildings. Following changes
to some services during the course of the year, catering facilities
now include six self-service restaurants, three coffee bars/cafés,
five table-service restaurants, six bars, and numerous hospitality
rooms for private functions. The House of Lords has its own Refreshment
Department, but Members and staff of the Lords are able to also
use many of the catering services provided in the House of Commons.
The Millbank Room, which has been converted from a table-service restaurant to an all-day coffee bar, with a limited food menu
219. The annual operating cost of the Refreshment
Department (approximately £11.9 million in 2003/04) is jointly
funded from the Administration Estimate and receipts from customers.
In 2003/04, receipts from customers (the trading income) totalled
£6.3 million and were almost £535,000 above budget.
All operating costs, but particularly food and beverage purchases,
were well controlled and consequently the department returned
a trading surplus of £959,000 (15 per cent), 57 per
cent ahead of last year's performance and 92 per cent better than
budget. After incorporation of the trading surplus, the net cost
of operating the Refreshment Department in 2003/04 was £5.6
million, an under-spend of £490,000 against the approved
estimate of £6.1 million.
220. The demand for catering has grown consistently
in recent years, particularly since the opening in December 2000
of the new services in Portcullis House. In 2003/04, the Refreshment
Department served a record number of covers (i.e. individual meals
or food sale transactions): at over 1.5 million covers, this represents
a 7.5 per cent increase since last year and a 61 per cent increase
since 1997/98. Growth continues to be most marked by the increasing
customer demand for high quality self-service restaurant and snack
221. Adapting to the changes in demand for catering
services that have arisen in recent years, and adjusting to new
demands that have arisen as a consequence of changes to the sitting
patterns of the House, have been key management challenges over
the past year. The impact of these changes has become clearer
over the year in that demand for evening services has reduced
and demand for early morning services has increased. Lunchtime
remains the peak demand period. Overall, the department regularly
serves over 7,500 covers a day when the House is sitting, an average
increase of 2,500 covers over the past five years.
222. In June 2003, the House of Commons Commission
agreed that the contribution provided for the operation of the
Refreshment Department from the Administration Estimate should
be reduced in stages to a level of 45 per cent of operating costs
by June 2006. The Commission is grateful for the advice of the
Finance and Services Committee and the Catering Committee and
to the staff of the Refreshment Department in successfully achieving
the first part of the revised target by the end of the reporting
year. Over the past year, the department has reviewed all its
services, making changes to opening hours, operating methods,
and service style in order to make more efficient use of resources
and to provide the services that best suit the changing requirements
of the House. No new facilities have been opened during 2003/04,
but the Millbank Room, formerly a table-service restaurant, has
been converted to an all-day coffee bar serving a limited food
menu. Above-inflation price increases were implemented in May
2003 and April 2004 to increase the proportion of the department's
costs recovered from the users of its services.
223. The greatest challenge facing the Refreshment
Department remains the development and retention of a workforce
with the modern skills and motivation to continue to deliver a
highly professional catering service in the face of new and changing
demands. The department, as a result of corporate accreditation,
remains an Investor in People and is a registered Awarding Centre
for National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs). During the last
year, the department has also retained accreditation under two
schemes operated by bodies governing the professional standards
of the hotel and catering industry: the Hotel and Catering International
Management Association's (HCIMA) Hospitality Assured standard
and the British Hospitality Association's (BHA) Excellence
Internal Review Services
224. The Internal Review Service (IRS) provides internal audit
and staff review services. Its principal role is to provide the
Clerk of the House (as Accounting Officer) with an assurance concerning
the adequacy of internal controls. Its other role is to assist
in ensuring that the House makes effective, efficient and economic
use of its human resources. IRS works closely with the Audit Committee
(see the annual report of the Audit Committee on pages 77-79).
225. During 2003/04 an independent review of IRS
was conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers. The review identified
a number of areas for improvement and recommended changes to working
practices and delivery. The main recommendation was that IRS should
engage a commercial partner to deliver around 25 per cent of the
internal audit programme, particularly so that the House could
have access to a wider skills base than was possible with a small
internal team. IRS is currently engaged in recruiting a partner
firm and implementing a package of more detailed recommendations,
which have the approval of the Clerk of the House and the Audit
226. As well as internal audit of financial areas,
IRS completed a value for money study of the procurement and disposal
of furniture in 2003/04. It is also contributed to the development
of the HAIS project by identifying key risks at the request of
the project board, and by preparing a contingency plan covering
the period of accounting migration from the old to the new system.
IRS also undertook a programme of job evaluation reviews, including
three senior posts, and carried out a major review of staffing
in the House's dining rooms.
227. The central procurement office
(CPO) is responsible for drafting and disseminating House-wide
procurement policies, initiatives and best practice advice. It
works closely with procurement professionals in other departments
and in the House of Lords, providing advice on House-wide purchasing
activities as well as giving hands-on assistance. Its aims are
to ensure that all risks are addressed and mitigated and that
the House achieves best value for money.
228. The CPO, under the direction
of the Director of Procurement, has a duty to ensure House procurement
exercises are conducted according to both UK and EU law, and to
take account of any changes or developments that affect the legal
regime. It maintains an intranet site to provide information to
House staff about procurement best practice and also provides
a communications link for external suppliers, and publishes information
about House procurements, on the internet.
229. Since March 2003 the CPO
has been directly involved in 29 procurement exercises (20 new
procurements since March), six of which are still on-going; a
further six are in the planning and development stages. The value
of the 23 post-planning stage procurements underway/undertaken
comes to a little over £18 million.
230. Further to the work carried
out inside the House, the CPO has given some of its time to informing
suppliers about the procedures that govern House of Commons' procurements,
to broaden supplier involvement in the competitive process and
thereby improve the quality and quantity of bidders and maximise
our value for money options.
231. In addition to outside work with suppliers,
the Director is forging closer working relations with his opposite
numbers in the House of Lords, the Scottish Parliament, the National
Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly, by the formation
of a Parliamentary Procurement Forum. Its main purposes are to
find areas for collaborative action, implement common policies
and share best practice.
Fire Safety and Training
232. Fire safety, like all aspects of Health and
Safety, is a key priority for the Serjeant at Arms and there is
a strong concern to make the parliamentary estate as safe as possible
for Members, staff and visitors.
233. The modern fire protection strategy for the
Palace includes fire compartments and automatic fire detection
in every room. The primary fire compartment boundaries designed
to resist a fire for sixty minutes have now been completed and
the secondary compartment boundaries with thirty minutes resistance
are being installed. Automatic fire detectors are in place through
most parts of the Palace and the remaining rooms will be equipped
over the next five years. All buildings on the parliamentary estate
have current fire certificates. Fire evacuation drills were carried
out throughout the parliamentary estate in the two weeks leading
up to Christmas and all buildings were evacuated.
234. During the last year there has been a concentration
on enhancing the safety of Members and staff through a comprehensive
fire safety training programme and the appointment of eighty-six
members of staff as evacuation marshals. Initial take-up by Members
and their staff of the training offered by the House service was
disappointing. 284 Members and 525 Members' staff were offered
fire safety training during the year, but only one Member and
30 staff attended. Further courses are being arranged in 2004/05
and take-up is expected to improve.
235. The House of Commons has active policies in
place to conserve energy, minimise waste, and use recycling techniques
wherever practicable. A review of the House's environmental performance
was commissioned in 2003/04 and reported in Spring 2004. Progress
in implementing the review's recommendations will be covered in
next year's Annual Report.
236. The House of Commons is committed to increasing
efficiency in the use of heating fuels and electricity, and to
purchasing ten per cent of electricity from renewable sources.
Between 1990/91 and 2003/04 average energy use per square metre
on the parliamentary estate was reduced by some ten per cent,
despite a significant rise in electricity demand for computers
and heating and cooling.
237. The current energy conservation strategy includes
high efficiency boilers and chiller plant in the Palace, which
were commissioned in March 2004; investment in other energy saving
schemes offering pay-back periods of up to seven years; sub-metering
to give better information on where energy is consumed; optimising
the efficiency of the combined heat and power plant at Norman
Shaw South; and encouraging nominated 'energy savers' in the departments
of the House to facilitate savings in their respective areas.
Also, the computer building energy management systems controlling
the Palace, Portcullis House and other buildings on the estate
are being refined; and a more efficient and effective air conditioning
system has been installed for the archives in Victoria Tower.
238. The parliamentary waste management policy is
to minimise waste and maximise re-use and recycling. Recovery
techniques are used for all waste which cannot be re-used or recycled.
During 2003/04 waste paper recycling was extended to the offices
of all Members and staff who wished to participate. Parliament
currently recycles waste paper, cardboard, glass, oils, metals,
timber, lighting tubes and printer toner cartridges. Material
which cannot be re-used or recycled is recovered by incineration
to generate electricity. The targets set by the Government for
its own offices for 2003/04 were 40 per cent of waste to be recovered
and 25 per cent of waste to be recycled. During the same period,
Parliament recovered 100 per cent of waste and recycled 27 per
One of the new high efficiency boilers for the Palace,
commissioned in March 2004 as part of the current energy conservation
19 The other departments mentioned in the chart are
the Office of the Clerk (8 staff), Information Architecture and
Standards Unit and IS Programme Office (8) and the Speaker's Office