Catering Services in the House of Commons

Further written evidence submitted by Will Conway, GMB Branch Secretary

Having now received the proposals for savings and income generation, the GMB House of Commons are grateful for the opportunity to make this further submission to the Committee.

On the document generally, it appears to have an incredible lack of coordination:

· Savings are mixed up with increases in revenue.

· None of the figures include inflation; as the targets we have been given are inclusive of it, surely so should the calculations proposed. The entire document is lacking in coherence and clarity suggesting that it has not been fully thought through. Figures in year one of 9% should equate to 17% by the end of the period. The methodology appears to just go for 17% at any period and that’ll do.

· No mention of savings from capital outlay, in fact, capital outlay is not included in some of the figures

· No mention of maintenance or refurbishment, even in Sue Harrison’s slightly more detailed presentation.

· Figures for income generation are static, this might be true for Rental income, but should not be true for sales; we should be presuming that growing expertise and inflation will make them increase.

· The paper for the House as a whole says that any of the proposed cuts that are not taken forward will have to be replaced by others. Nobody should be under the impression that a 17% cut in one Department is equal to a similar percentage cut in another. The CRS subsidy is only 2% of the House budget; 17% of that is next to nothing. The federal way that this programme is being conducted fails to address this.

The proposals include cuts of well over 17%, despite the year on year decrease in the Departmental budget already made. As I said to the Committee, this seems vastly unfair on the staff of the Department and threatens its ability to function properly. This would particularly apply when leave is being taken as it may leave us under resourced to cover. It is obviously for the Members to decide, through the Committees, which services they wish to change or do without, but the list looks like a massive kneejerk reaction.

As a further result of the cuts in previous years; the overwhelming bulk of proposed savings are in staff, or human, costs. Because of the composition of the workforce in ethnic background and income; this may well have a negative equality impact if carried through. Many affected staff will be unlikely to find other positions in CRS, and almost impossible to accommodate Housewide.

The proposal to close the Adjournment Restaurant service in favour of a coffee/ bespoke sandwich offering would require a capital spend of some £6 million (figure from Sue Harrison in response to staff question). As I said before, this figure is not mentioned in the document. Obviously, the Members must decide whether they wish to change the service provided as extremely as this proposal, but I am concerned about where this money would be otherwise spent. The Department needs investment into general replacement of equipment and refurbishment of some areas; is this money being taken from that budget? Is there a budget? There are other areas which look likely to incur sizeable capital spends, the proposals for the souvenir kiosk, Pugin Room and purchase of vending machines for 7 Millbank. The same questions apply.

Generally, we take the view that it is for Members to decide which services they wish to keep or change, but would make the following observations on the detail of the proposals.

Changing the Pugin Room to a bar service might, conceivably, produce an increase in revenue. Would a new bar be politically wise, or what the Members want or need?

The proposal to make the Terrace Cafeteria self clearing seems ambitious. Recent attempts to encourage people have been ignored and the cost of installing a system similar to Bellamy’s or 7 Millbank would be very high.

The proposal to use Moncrieff’s as a Staff Cafeteria has its attractions for many staff, but access would be difficult. At present CRS staff eat in large blocks, at the start of service generally. Could the lift servicing Moncrieff’s cope with the 100+ staff surge in use?

What does "reduction in budget to reflect planned spend" mean in relation to the Training budget reduction?

Would the Souvenir Kiosk make a decent site for a Coffee Bar? There is no space for seating anywhere near; it would mean those without access to the Terrace, disregarding the weather, having to go back to their offices. It has none of the advantages of the Despatch Box. The Terrace Pavilion Bar might be a better venue. If the proposal is that it is to be more of an express outlet for drinks and sandwiches, the problem of seating still applies, with the added problem of staff being pushed to eat meals at their desks. Staff are already compelled, for various reasons, to spend almost all their time in the precincts, they should at least be encouraged to have proper breaks away from their desks.

The proposed increase in revenue from souvenir sales item appears particularly woolly; there is no figure for this or next year and the projected income does not increase year by year. As we already have an outlet and a reasonable line of goods, why are we not starting immediately and showing a bit more ambition. Mr Borley suggests that we can make more money by letting the Bookshop as a coffee shop, I doubt this, but it does not mean that we should delay the sale of goods.

It is a great concern that the prospective income and employment from increased souvenir sales should be kept in-house as far as possible, or it could become something of a Trojan horse. The immediately available properties have the advantage of cellars, and one a first floor. These could be used for the preparation of internet sales. Delivery vans could then collect these goods after dropping off stock. This should create some vacancies at a suitable level for CRS staff.

If the present bookshop were to be used for memorabilia, there would be little or no need for refurbishment. It could carry on its present dual role and income from book sales should increase purely because of increased footfall. There seems to be a problem in this because of interdepartmental wrangling, as the shop comes under the aegis of DCCS, this may need higher level direction.

The income from catering price increases is a particular example of opaque accounting. The figures again ignore inflation, but they also ignore the projected (6% food, 5% drink, not in document) savings in procurement costs. These would have the potential to increase margins/income, or to freeze prices. It would be nice to know which. Given that the income of our core customers is likely to be frozen, or fall in real terms, and their numbers fall, there are a number of factors affecting these figures. This should be addressed.

There is no mention of revenue from civil partnerships, although I know it is being actively pursued. Add-on revenue from catering and flowers should also be explored.

November 2010