Catering Services in the House of Commons

Written evidence submitted by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA)

BACKGROUND

CPA UK is a high volume user of the facilities of the Catering Department and hosts a large numbers of visitors throughout the year both as delegates at its seminars and conferences and in small numbers on an individual and frequent daily basis. It spent just over £62,000 in the last financial year and in addition to other events, will be spending in excess of £175,000 (plus VAT) at next July’s Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference 2011.

VALUE FOR MONEY

CPA UK uses the Dining Rooms for lunches for the 60 or so parliamentarian delegates attending its international parliamentary seminars and conferences each year. Time constraints within the programmes dictate that it can only offer the delegates a 2 course lunch; it is also Branch policy that the lunches be ‘dry’. There is, however, a minimum spend in the Dining Rooms which can normally only be met by ordering a 3 course meal with wine. As the Refreshment Department’s rules force us to make up the difference, we have to pay money from CPA UK’s budget (which comes from Parliament) back to Parliament for facilities that we do not use. This does not make economic sense; neither does the price regime CPA UK is obliged to follow.

The recent sharp increase in prices in the Refreshment Department, together with budgetary constraints within CPA UK’s budget, has for the moment forced us to withdraw our requests for Dining Room bookings for future inward delegations. As facilitating Members to meet visiting Members of Parliament in a parliamentary setting is exactly what the Dining Rooms are intended for, it is for consideration that the Refreshment Department adopt a more advantageous and flexible in-house price structure for parliamentary customers such as CPA UK.

JOINT OPERATIONS

Whilst it is not within our remit, as a user of services from both Houses, it is for consideration that value for money may not best served by retaining separate refreshment departments for the House of Commons and the House of Lords. There is frequent duplication of menus and differentials of price, e.g. the price of chips in the River Restaurant as against the price in other outlets. There is scope for greater cooperation and rationalisation across the parliamentary estate. The success of PICT and the Education Service should point the way to a more joint approach in the future.

FORMAL DINING

CPA UK uses both the Churchill Room and Strangers’ Dining Room to entertain visiting Commonwealth parliamentarians. Both are very similar. CPA UK has found that its guests do not want a heavy, formal lunch which can take a long time to serve, especially in the Churchill Room, but that they prefer something lighter that is both quicker and healthier. Given the popularity of the Adjournment that meets these criteria, it is for consideration that a similar facility be established in the main building.

BOOKING

As a major and regular customer, CPA UK considers that it would be useful to have a central booking point for all refreshment outlets.

CATERING IN THE CPA ROOM

CPA UK entertains a large number of visitors in the CPA Room, both singly and in small delegations, and runs high profile receptions, for example at the State Opening of Parliament. It has to call in outside caterers to cater for its requirements. Though this is satisfactory as far as CPA UK is concerned, it could be seen as a missed opportunity for the Refreshment Department to expand its business.

CONCLUSION

The Refreshment Department has a monopoly on the services it provides. However, it should not be viewed as a totally commercial operation as its raison-d’etre is to offer a service to parliamentarians in the pursuit of their duties as parliamentarians, and its pricing policy should reflect this.

There is considerable scope for rationalisation to offer greater value for money.

October 2010