Catering Services in the House of Commons

Further written evidence submitted by the Parliamentary Press Gallery (CS 49)

Having had an opportunity to give the matter further consideration we remain convinced of the viability of Moncrieff’s cafeteria, although we are prepared to accept that the waiter service component is not economic. As discussed, we would accept the closure of this particular aspect of our catering facility if members of the Press Gallery are then able to reserve tables at another restaurant, for example the Churchill Room, both at lunch times and in the evenings.

With regard to the self-service element I think you will be aware of how strongly we feel about the need to retain this at lunch times for all passholders, as at present. Apart from the obvious advantage for ourselves, Hansard and the Commons staff – such as our Attendants and Doorkeepers – who are based in this part of the Palace, Moncrieff’s has become a valued venue for staff from across the estate as an alternative to the long queues regularly experienced in the Terrace and in Portcullis House. Footfall has been increased by the introduction of feature days, e.g. the fish and chip Fridays, and we are sure there would be scope to develop other themed events. It is also the case that were any of the larger venues to close temporarily for refurbishment Moncrieff’s is ideally placed to stay open throughout recesses to take up the displaced custom, as has already happened in the recent past when the Terrace Cafeteria was renovated.

We understand from Sue Harrison that she is considering using the cafeteria as a lunch venue for catering staff from across the Commons. Given that they need to eat their meals before 12.00 noon we can see no reason why the self-service cafeteria could not then continue as normal.

In urging your committee to recommend the retention of Moncrieff’s we are of course aware of the financial pressures and have therefore been giving serious consideration to how it might be developed as a function room.

As you know, Moncrieff’s is already used monthly for Press Gallery lunches to which senior Parliamentarians are invited as the guest speakers. There are other occasions; for example, it is used by the Newspaper Society for their annual lunch.

In the evenings it is the venue for leaving parties, our ‘Chairman’s Pint’, and the variety of receptions we hold for – amongst others – new Members (after an election), the Speaker and special advisers.

However, as a venue it could be attractive to external party or event organisers, given its location inside of the most famous buildings in the world. Companies such as Dods, which are intimately connected to Parliament and with whom we already work closely, organise dozens of parliamentary events every year, and are already keen to try to find ways to use the Moncrieff’s space.

From their point of view the advantage of Moncrieff’s is that MPs are much more likely to attend an event if it is held on the parliamentary estate and the event would not need to be sponsored by a Member as is the case with all other function rooms.

The Press Gallery has an extensive picture archive which could be extended to the entrance and staircase leading to the bar/restaurant, highlighting the historic associations for guests. We also have a number of fascinating artefacts which could be placed on display if secure units could be found them.

In conclusion, we hope the Administration Committee would agree with us that Moncrieff’s is a venue with potential and that to close it would be an opportunity lost to develop a revenue stream which is of benefit to the Parliamentary budget as a whole.

If we can provide any more information please don’t hesitate to let us know.

March 2011