Catering Services in the House of Commons

Further written evidence submitted by the Parliamentary Press Gallery

As I mentioned to you at the end of your last committee meeting on Monday this week, members of the Press Gallery are extremely keen to come forward with suggestions for the greater use of Moncrieff’s self-service cafeteria.

We understand you are considering options for cost saving and income generation across the House services. We also understand that it is the view of the House Catering & Retail Services that the self-service cafeteria and waiter service operation is uneconomic and consequently should be closed, although the cafè/bar would remain open. We regret this rather negative approach and would very much like the opportunity to discuss in more detail how we could co-operate with Sue Harrison and her team in increasing trade in Moncrieff’s.

However, we do appreciate that the waiter service element of Moncrieff’s – the Bistro as it is known – is underused and might, with regret, accept that this should be discontinued. However, as this is the only place where members of the Press Gallery can entertain guests to lunch, closure would only be acceptable if we were able to have access to the Adjournment and the Churchill Room for lunch and dinner. Our members have a regular and genuine need to entertain as part of their jobs and without Moncrieff’s Bistro there is nowhere on the Parliamentary estate where they can do this.

We feel it is imperative that the rest of the self service cafeteria should remain open. It is used not only by members of the Press Gallery, for whom quick and easy access to a hot meal is essential when working to deadlines, but as a welcome alternative to the queues at the ‘honeypot’ venues in Portcullis House and the Terrace by other passholders, thereby easing the load on those venues.

In addition, Moncrieff’s is a fundamental part of the working life of the Press Gallery. It is used for a wide variety of functions, including monthly lunches at which key Parliamentarians, including recently both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, have been recent speakers, and regular receptions – for example:

· the Press Gallery’s successful schools writing competition (run in conjunction with the Parliament Education Service);

· an event to welcome the current Speaker as Hon President of the Press Gallery;

· two events to welcome new Members to Parliament last May);

· regular events for government and opposition advisers, political think tanks and so on;

· internal social events, such as a very popular quiz night.

Were the cafeteria to close, alternative venues would have to be found for all these functions.

I had a very productive meeting with Sue Harrison earlier this week during which we discussed her proposals for consideration by your committee. Mrs Harrison mentioned that in the event of closure, the space could be used as a venue for catering staff meals at lunchtime. It seems illogical to fire up the kitchens for meals taken between 11.00 and 12.00 and then not to keep the area open for normal lunch time service.

We have a number of positive suggestions for increasing footfall through Moncrieff’s:

· An additional ‘themed’ lunch time to build on the success of the ‘fish and chip Fryday’

· A venue for political meetings, political book launches and signings, and club dinners. A number of Members have told us they would be unhappy with the Churchill Room being set aside for functions. Moncrieff’s could be considered as an alternative venue.

· A place for Parliamentary groups to welcome visitors and delegations to Westminster

· That consideration be given to keeping the cafeteria open all year round accompanied by a serious marketing exercise in order to increase customer loyalty and habitual use amongst specific groups of passholders, e.g. the police and security staff;

· Political breakfast briefings, such as we have undertaken in the past.

The Press Gallery is an historic and integral part of Parliament, attributes which we are sure could be used as an effective marketing tool in a positive campaign to develop it as a venue and maximise revenue. We would welcome an opportunity to discuss these matters further with you before your committee reaches its final conclusions for recommendation to the House of Commons Commission.

January 2011