House of Commons Commission Twenty-Seventh Annual Report


Support services


A number of interactive conferences have been organised for staff who will be affected by the IS/IT change programme.

190. 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

191. The Department of Finance and Administration's (DFA) core services include financial, payroll, pension, human resources, corporate training, occupational health, safety and welfare, procurement and internal review services.

House Administrative Information System (HAIS)

192. A second phase of the HAIS programme has begun (see page 64), with the aim of improving the way human resource, finance and procurement services are conducted across the House of Commons. It involves defining who is responsible for which aspects of those services, making processes more consistent and efficient, and putting in place a corporate information system to support the processes. The programme aims to reduce duplication, clarify levels of authority and responsibility and to improve the quality of administrative data.

193. During 2004/05 the scope and objectives of the programme were confirmed, following extensive consultation with a wide range of managers. The Board of Management gave the programme approval to proceed in October 2004. An external review to assess the merits and likely success of the programme resulted in a 'green' rating, judging it "on target to succeed".

194. A HAIS Service Centre was established in December 2003 to provide an effective support service to users of the information system and to ensure that the system is fully exploited to improve the business services it supports. During the last year a number of key milestones were achieved. These included:

  • putting in place a service level agreement with departmental HAIS users;
  • implementing a security action plan in response to a review undertaken in April 2004; and
  • commencing work towards implementing the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) best practice model for service management.

As part of the ITIL initiative seven members of the Service Centre successfully completed the Information System Examination Board's Foundation Certificate in Service Management.

Payroll

195. During 2004/05, the House employed, on average, 1,554 full-time equivalent (fte) staff. Their distribution by department is shown in the chart below.


196. The multi-year pay deals agreed for most House staff for the first time in 2003/04 continued to apply in 2004/05. Separate pay arrangements are in place for senior Commons staff.

Staff pensions

197. The pension scheme for House staff operates 'by analogy' to the Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme (PCSPS), so that changes to the PCSPS must be mirrored in the House scheme. In December, the Cabinet Office launched a consultation exercise concerning possible changes to the PCSPS, including raising the pension age to 65 and the transition to pension benefits based on 'whole career' earnings rather than final salary. The House similarly ran a consultation exercise, the results of which were submitted to the Cabinet Office. Final decisions are expected from Government later in 2005.

198. Much of the day-to day administration of the House staff pension scheme was successfully transferred to a private sector company, Capita Hartshead, with effect from 1 April 2005.

199. Some 84 per cent of invoices presented against the Administration Estimate were paid within 30 working days of the invoice date in 2004/05, five per cent more than last year.

Childcare

200. Childcare vouchers are offered to help House staff with childcare arrangements while they are at work. 116 staff took advantage of the scheme during the year 2004/05. During that period the scheme was extended to cover Members' staff for the first time. The House offered a summer play scheme in conjunction with a local community centre. This provided up to 25 places per week for school age children of staff during the summer vacation.

Human resources and training
201. Several new initiatives were introduced during the year to improve the recruitment process and to increase the diversity of the House workforce. These include generic recruitment for some support level jobs; increased use of concurrent internal and external recruitment; and an internal level transfer scheme to provide development opportunities for staff. 65 internal and 85 external (mostly concurrent) recruitment exercises were handled during the year (see chart below). This is significantly fewer than in previous years, the decrease being mainly due to efficiencies gained from the concurrent and generic recruitment initiatives and the expectation of a general election which eased demand for staff in the first quarter of 2005.



202. The Corporate Learning and Diversity team in DFA organised 61 corporate learning events in the year. This included sixteen management seminars, five two-day events, 34 one-day events and two half-day events. In total 908 delegate places were allocated with an improved attendance rate of 90 per cent owing to a new checking system put in place by the team.

Internal communications


203. Change projects and departments throughout the House are increasingly taking into account the effectiveness of their communications' activities. A variety of communications' methods are being used to put across complex messages. For example, a number of interactive conferences have been organised for staff who will be affected by the IS/IT change programme. These events have been supplemented by written communications, either via email or using the intranet.

204. The Internal Communications Forum, created to enable staff with internal communication responsibilities within their departments to share best practice and experiences, now meets on a more formal basis. Forum members now have the support of their departments to attend an intensive internal communications training course later in 2005 and to include communication objectives in their forward job plans.


During 2004/05 two senior management conference events were attended by over 70 staff each.

205. In 2004/05 two senior manager management conference events were held, each attended

by over 70 staff: Managing inclusion: why diversity matters and Managing organisational change. These were well received - rated excellent by 79 per cent of those submitting feedback forms overall. One conference will be held in 2005, linked to key issues in the Commission's new strategic plan, such as work on connecting Parliament with the public.

206. Following an audit of communications' materials aimed at Members and their staff, the Board of Management agreed that such publications should adopt a consistent corporate identity. New style guidelines were put in place before leaflets and booklets were reprinted ahead of the general election.

Parliamentary intranet

207. The parliamentary intranet continues to be an important tool for communicating to Members and staff. During the year, the new edition of the Members' Handbook was published as a series of linked intranet pages ahead of publication in hard copy, and was updated on a number of occasions. Last year intranet sites received over 5.1 million 'requests', nearly 25 per cent fewer than in the previous year but substantially more than in 2002/03. Progress continues to be made towards the convergence of existing intranets into one, easily-navigable, Parliament-wide site. In anticipation of this, the Department of Finance and Administration relaunched its intranet site during the year, providing separate entry pages for Members and House staff.


Information standards


208. Work has continued on developing agreed information standards in order to achieve interoperability between information systems across both Houses of Parliament. An Information Standards Unit has been established within the Information Architecture Support Unit to serve both Houses of Parliament. The new unit will facilitate the development of new standards as the need arises as well as manage the processes of review, modification and agreement for both new and existing information standards. The standards put forward during 2003/04 were taken through a comprehensive process of review and agreement. The catalogue of agreed standards (available on the parliamentary intranet) included 104 standards at the end of March 2005, covering a variety of parliamentary, administrative and technical information.

209. The data standards will be further refined to confirm ownership and stewardship of the various data elements and ensure their accuracy, timeliness and availability. The catalogue will be expanded to include standards in the financial and human resource arenas that are needed to support the HAIS 2 programme (see paragraphs 192-193). Other significant areas of work will include development of a user-friendly repository for the standards and the development of comprehensive parliamentary XML schema to help improve the efficiency of the publication of parliamentary material, the exchange of such material with government departments, and electronic publication and dissemination.

Occupational health, safety and welfare

210. A key milestone in 2004/05 was the decision by the Commission to ban smoking in most parts of the parliamentary estate, in the light of growing medical evidence about the adverse effects of passive smoking. All restaurants and some of the bars are included in the ban. The Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare Service (OHSWS) will provide health advice to those wishing to give up smoking.

211. A range of medical services is provided by the OHSWS, supported by physicians supplied under contract by Guy's and St. Thomas' Hospital Trust. Together they provide a management referral and employee referral service for departments of both Houses relating to ill-health symptoms and long- and short-term sickness absence (see paragraph 117 for services specifically for Members). They are further supported by colleagues who specialise in the fields of health and safety and welfare. Other support activities are also provided where illness and injury may affect staff while at work including physiotherapy, personal training, health surveillance, health screening, workplace inspections, counselling, health promotions and a walk-in minor treatment and advice service.

212. Continuing the trend of previous years there has been a steady growth in the use of occupational health services. Increasing numbers of referrals are having a positive effect in the two Houses: early occupational health intervention helps to prevent symptoms of ill health worsening and stops many short-term sickness absences from becoming long-term absences. As a result, long-term absences have fallen significantly. Additionally, rehabilitation programmes are helping to get people back to work following illness or an operation.



213. The Welfare Service provides confidential information, advice, support and counselling services to staff of both Houses in relation to financial, health, bereavement, domestic and work related issues. It also supports managers in resolving difficult staffing situations. The aim is to help people remain effective at work by helping them to overcome difficulties they face, whether work related or not. The Welfare Service handled 607 cases during the past year, of which 279 were new: this represents a slight decline in workload compared to 2003/04 although the number of cases remains significantly higher than in 2002/03.

214. Health and safety practitioners provide advice, support and guidance to the departments, offices and Health and Safety Committees of both Houses, on all relevant aspects of the law and good working practices. The five year health and safety risk management strategy has paid dividends with injury accident rates on the parliamentary estate falling from 372 in 2000 to 172 in 2004 (see chart overleaf). The severity of accidents has also reduced: when accidents do occur they tend to result in minor injury only. A number of initiatives are planned to target those hazards causing most accidents to help further reduce accident rates. Health and safety training continues to be important with 37 health and safety related courses run during the year, attracting 375 attendees.


215. There are now 171 trained first aiders working for the two Houses, with 86 of them also trained to use the ten defibrillators on the estate. The number of blood donor sessions continues to rise, with four-day sessions planned to cope with demand - 383 volunteers reported to the blood service in 2004/05, of which 378 were able to donate blood including 44 new donors.


216. Membership of the Westminster Gym, a private facility provided under contract to the two Houses, exceeds 800. During 2004 the contract was re-let, following a highly competitive tendering process.


Catering Services

217. 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 159 to 165). The department operates a wide range of catering services located in the Palace of Westminster, Portcullis House and two other parliamentary buildings, serving snacks and meals to over 8,000 people a day at peak times. Facilities include the Members' Tea Room and four self-service restaurants for staff and Members, four table-service restaurants, three cafés/coffee bars (including the Jubilee Café, open to all visitors to Parliament), five bars and numerous hospitality rooms for private functions. The Refreshment Department also operates the catering facilities provided for press and media representatives based in the House. The House of Lords has its own Refreshment Department, but Members and staff of the Lords are able to use many of the catering services provided in the House of Commons. Given this wide customer base and the impossibility of knowing how many people are within the parliamentary estate at any given time, one of the greatest difficulties faced by the Refreshment Department is predicting the number of customers who will use its services from one day, or even from one hour, to the next.

218. Following the Commission's decision in June 2003 that the funding provided for the operation of the Refreshment Department's services should be reduced in stages to 45 per cent of operating costs by June 2006, much work has been done over the past two years to reduce the catering subsidy. The first phase of this work, in 2003/04, involved a review of all services, making changes to opening hours, operating methods, and service style in order to make more efficient use of resources whilst still providing services that meet the changing needs of the House. The savings generated by this review have only come fully on-stream in 2004/05. No further service cut-backs have been made this year, although the refurbishment of Bellamy's cafeteria provided the opportunity to invest in new systems that have allowed further staffing reductions to be achieved. Additionally, above-inflation price increases were implemented in April 2003 and again in April 2004 to increase the proportion of costs recovered from users of the Department's services. The combination of price increases, staff reductions and on-going control of key operational expenditure (particularly food and beverage costs) enabled the department to achieve the first phase of its target savings in 2003/04 by reducing the subsidy to 47 per cent. The second phase, to reduce the subsidy to 45 per cent by June 2006, has already been exceeded, with the Department achieving a subsidy level of less than 42 per cent in 2004/05. The net subsidy provided in 2004/05 is estimated at £4.84 million, a cash saving of £870,000 since the Commission agreed its current policy. The average cost of £3.32 per cover (meal) served is £1.00 less than it was ten years ago, demonstrating significant efficiency improvements against a background of rising demand for catering services.


219. For the first time in many years, demand for the department's staff restaurant and cafeteria services reduced slightly in 2004/05. This is almost certainly a direct consequence of the price increases referred to above. Although the dining rooms suffered a loss of some evening trade following changes to the sitting hours of the House, lunchtime trade was buoyant, with the net result that dining room usage (Members' and Strangers' dining rooms, the Churchill Room and the adjournment in Portcullis House) increased marginally in 2004/05. However, the key demand shift that has greatly assisted the department's overall subsidy position is the significant growth in banqueting sales and profit contribution in 2004/05. Banqueting covers showed a fifteen per cent growth in 2004/05 and the introduction of a new menu format, offering more choice to organisers, helped achieve an increase in average spend of almost £2.00 per head. In 2004/05, banqueting sales contributed 39 per cent of the department's total income and yielded 52 per cent of the department's gross profits.

220. The other key challenge for the Refreshment Department over the past two years has been to make better use of its staff skills and resources. The department's commitment to the continuous development of its staff remains evidenced by its on-going investment in the training and development of staff at all levels, both as an accredited Investor in People and as a registered awarding centre for National Vocational Qualifications. The department operates a chef apprenticeship scheme and regularly hosts visits and work experience for schoolchildren, students and colleagues from the wider hospitality industry. As a result of the operational changes introduced as part of the subsidy review, staff headcount has fallen from 314 (full-time equivalent) two years ago to 293 at the end of March 2005. This has been achieved almost entirely through natural wastage and re-deployment. Significant savings have also been made through better control of other staff costs, such as a reduction in staff absence of over three days per employee in 2004/05, with the consequence that less expenditure has been incurred in engaging temporary cover. This, in turn, has enabled staff to adapt to their new working practices in a period of relative team stability and, although the unpredictability of parliamentary demands will always continue to provide a challenge for staff working in front-line service delivery positions, individual and collective staff motivation has been a critical success factor in the department achieving the targets set by the Commission two years ago.

Internal Review Service

221. 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.

222. In October 2004 IRS engaged PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to be its internal audit partner. PwC provides access to a broad range of expertise not available to the in-house team and will also operate in areas where there may be a perceived conflict of interest between IRS and the Department of Finance and Administration of which it is a part. The engagement of an internal audit partner was one of a number of recommendations made in an independent review of IRS accepted by the Administration Estimate Audit Committee and approved by the Clerk of the House.

223. During 2004/05 IRS delivered fifteen audit reports relating to the Administration Estimate from its risk based internal audit programme, underpinning the statement of assurance on internal controls. It also produced an internal audit strategy and charter against which its services could be measured, as well as work relating to the Members Estimate.

224. On the staff review side IRS continued to provide assistance on the appropriate pay band for posts in pay band A and below at the request of Departmental Establishments Officers and completed a programme of review of senior posts including the Director of Finance and Administration, the Serjeant at Arms and the Librarian.

Procurement

225. 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. The CPO 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, provides a communications link for external suppliers, and publishes information about House procurements on the internet.

226. Between April 2004 and March 2005 the CPO has been involved, to a greater or lesser extent, in 53 procurement exercises and has responded to over 1,240 written or email enquiries, mostly from external sources. Procurements are categorised as: (a) small value, simple form contracts, reviewed or drafted by CPO; (b) procurements of greater value and complexity where CPO acts largely, and solely, in an advisory role; (c) competitive contract exercises, usually high value and complex, requiring direct CPO support. Of the 53 procurements, twenty fell into category (a), with a combined value in excess of £400,000; five projects, valued in excess of £15 million per annum, fell into category (b); and the value of the remaining 28 category (c) contracts totalled more than £28.5 million, with a combined first-year value of over £8 million.

227. Further to the work carried out inside the House, the CPO informs 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 value for money options.

Fire Safety and Training

228. Fire safety, like all aspects of health and safety, is a key priority for the House Service and there is a strong concern to make the parliamentary estate as safe as possible for Members, staff and visitors.

229. 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 60 minutes have now been completed and the secondary compartment boundaries with 30 minute resistance are now being installed. Automatic fire detectors are in place through most parts of the Palace and the remaining rooms will be equipped over the next four years. All buildings on the parliamentary estate have current fire certificates and fire evacuation drills have been carried out.

230. The House has sought to enhance the safety of Members and staff through a comprehensive fire training programme and the appointment of members of staff as evacuation marshals. 62 Members and 223 Members' staff attended the training in 2004/05, a large increase on the previous year but still leaving considerable room for improvement. Further courses are being arranged in 2005/06.

Environmental performance

231. The House of Commons actively applies policies for the conservation of energy, to minimise waste, and, where possible, to recycle waste products.

Energy conservation

232. The House of Commons is committed to increasing efficiency in the use of heating fuels and electricity. Eleven per cent of electricity is purchased from renewable sources and in 2004/05 energy consumption was reduced by six per cent compared with the previous year

233. 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; and encouraging economy in energy use by occupants through a network of nominated 'energy savers' in the departments of the House. An energy saving partnership has been established with the Carbon Trust, which has provided training for technical, catering and office keeping staff.

Waste recycling

234. The House aims to minimise waste and maximise reuse and recycling. Recovery techniques are used for all waste which cannot be recycled. In 2004/05 the proportion of waste recycled increased by two per cent to 29 per cent, compared with the previous year. All the waste which could not be recycled was recovered by incineration to generate electricity. Materials which are recycled include paper, cardboard, glass, metals, cooking oil, lamps and printer cartridges. The Waste Recycling Group met regularly during the year and worked to promote and assist with waste recycling. Following a review of the House's environmental performance, which reported in Spring 2004, efforts during the year have concentrated on increasing the proportions of waste paper and glass which are recycled. This work continues.



 
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