Select Committee on House of Commons Commission Twenty-sixth Annual Report

Support services

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.[19]

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 in 2004/05.

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.

Internal communications
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 activities effectively.

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.

Parliament intranet

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.

Information standards

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 using XML.

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.

Catering Services
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 facilities.

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 Through People.

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 Committee.

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.

Environmental performance

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.

Energy conservation

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.

Waste recycling

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 cent.

One of the new high efficiency boilers for the Palace, commissioned in March 2004 as part of the current energy conservation strategy.

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 (7) Back

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Prepared 6 July 2004