Catering Services in the House of Commons

Written evidence submitted by Emma Laity, Members staff

My name is Emma Laity and herewith I submit my written evidence to the above inquiry.

I write as an individual, based in the Palace of Westminster, who uses the House catering and retail services several times a day.

My first point concerns the price of catering services.

In his announcement Speaker Bercow stated:

"To save a further £500,000, catering prices in the House will be raised. This will bring cafeteria prices into line with typical workplace venues and bar prices into line with a competitively-priced high street pub chain."

The way in which prices have increased seems totally haphazard:

• the fish dish in the Debate in Portcullis House has only risen 30p from £3.60 to £3.90, while the pasta dish has gone from £1.25 to £2.95

• a sandwich, a snack and a drink is now over £5 whereas a similar lunch from the Westminster Tesco costs £2 on their meal deal

• a chocolate muffin from the Westminster Café Nero is £1.50 and £1.45 from the Victoria Street Starbucks but is £1.65 from the Despatch Box in PCH

I think it should be made public which ‘typical workplace venues’ the increases were based on, it currently looks as though prices were plucked out the air. I strongly feel that prices should be competitive in order to encourage staff to continue to purchase food in House – I know most of my colleagues are now shopping outside the House at lunch or bringing in their own food. The House could, for instance, introduce a sandwich Meal Deal like that of Tesco and Boots.

I also query why prices differ between restaurants. For instance why soup in the Debate is 85p but £1.10 in the Lords River Restaurant. Could there not be a consistency between restaurants?

I strongly feel that staff should have access to tea and coffee making facilities. I do not know anyone who has to pay for a cup of tea in their workplace, let alone the 60p charge we face for the privilege of a tea bag and hot water.

Which brings me on to the discrepancy between the facilities available in Portcullis House and the Palace. I have been based in both and find that staff working in offices in the Palace are sorely without kitchen facilities. Why should someone based in PCH have access to a fridge, a sink, an urn and a microwave while staff in the Palace have none of these? Such kitchen facilities are available in all ‘typical workplace venues’ and I strongly think the Palace should accommodate such facilities for staff.

I want to emphasise how fantastic the Despatch Box is for fresh coffee and am extremely pleased that it’s coffee prices have gone unchanged. At busy periods however the queues can be 15 minutes long - could this be wait time be reduced by increasing staff numbers at peak periods?

And lastly:

• Would it be possible to expand catering services in the Debate to include a fresh salad bar like that of the Lords River Restaurant or Bellamy’s.

• Is there going to be a replacement bar installed after Bellamy’s Bar was closed to make way for a crèche?

I look forward to reading the conclusions the Committee comes to.

September 2010