Examination of Witnesses (Questions 78-99)|
LOUISE HAIGH, LAUREN EDWARDS AND SHELLEY PHELPS
22 NOVEMBER 2010
Good afternoon. I'm sorry we kept you waiting. We're running a
little late. Thank you for coming to see us and thank you for
paper that you submitted. I gather that James Mills has had to
go to hospital and that it's Lauren who is replacing him. Welcome.
Is there anything you'd like to say by way of introduction before
we ask you some questions?
Louise Haigh: In
terms of our oral submission or introducing the branch?
Chair: I'm sorry?
Louise Haigh: Sorry,
would you like us to introduce the branch or introduce our oral
submission because we've prepared an oral submission as well?
Chair: I'm still not quite
hearing you properly.
Louise Haigh: Sorry.
Do you mean would you like us to introduce our oral submission?
You can enlarge on it, if you'd like to highlight any particular
points that you need to draw to the attention of the Committee.
I hope we've all read it, but nevertheless you might want to give
emphasis to something.
Louise Haigh: Yes,
we do have a couple of other things that we would like to add
to the written submission, if that is okay.
First, we were quite disappointed as a branch not
to have been consulted before the price rises were announced.
We do have a memorandum of understanding with the House authorities.
We do appreciate that it was a quick strategic decision, but we
would have liked to see some consultation with the branch. Also,
we were quite disappointed not to have been invited to consult
and to submit to the Commission. It was a request from myself
that led to us making the submission, whereas the Trade Union
Side and MAPSA were both invited.
Enlarging on our written submission, the main point
that we want make is that the catering price rises will impact
disproportionately on MPs' staff. We have an average salary of
around £20,000 per annum, which is far below the market rate
for the vast majority of the jobs and qualifications of most MPs'
staff, and at the same time, we're also facing higher costs on
the estate. I know this is not part of your remit as the Administration
Committee, but just to give you some context, IPSA is driving
down salaries through cuts to MPs' staffing budgets and MPs have
also been banned from giving their staff bonuses, so many MPs'
staff feel they are unfairly bearing the brunt of the cuts at
In addition, we also have a response to the cuts
specifically proposed in the Houses' saving programme.
Yes, we have just been having a look at the House savings programme
and our major concern really is that the cuts programme recognises
the long hours a lot of MPs' staff work. We know that one of the
proposals is to close down some of the facilities and replace
them with vending machines. I know that's the context of 7 Millbank,
and we don't believe that any of our members work in that building,
but just in terms of that setting a precedent, we would like evening
meals and that kind of thing to still be available for our members,
given that some of us work as long as the MPs are here.
Finally, as Interns Officer, I would like to bring just a few
points to your attention. Our members have expressed concerns
about access arrangements for short-term staff, such as interns.
We feel that they should be able to access the Terrace at the
same times as green pass holders can; also, things like access
to the Debate. Obviously we recognise that this is a problem when
it is extremely busy, but this rule applies regardless of quieter
times, with the exception of recess. So that's just something
that we wanted to have addressed, really.
Chair: Thank you. I think
I should just say that no one was consulted. We are all in it
together, to coin a phrase, in the sense that these decisions
were taken in the void period between the ending of the Committees
under the old Parliament and the setting up of the Committees
in the new. The Commission, as it is entitled, nevertheless took
decisions that we are now catching up on. As to the future, there
is only one item in the list that is affecting the next financial
year so far as the catering side is concerned, and that happens
to be the Members' Dining Room. On any other proposal on that
very widely drawn list, we are going to have the opportunity of
input. In fact it has been stated that the inquiry being conducted
by this Committee will help to inform and, I hope, influence what
might happen in the future.
Q80 Bob Russell:
I think there is a general acceptance that the curse of IPSA falls
on staff, possibly more so than it does on elected Members. I'm
grateful to you for pointing that out in the "Loyalty Scheme"
sectionnumber two. I wonder if perhaps you could spell
it out a bit more? Are you suggesting that perhaps low-paid staff,
shortly or already to be on IPSA-reduced salaries, would be entitled
to a lower purchase price of commodities? Is that what is being
Yes. We are asking, basically to take into account our below market
rate salaries, whether that would be one of the options that you
could consider. Some people have been talking about perhaps a
staff canteen, but we just think with the pure numbers of staff
that we have on the estate, it would just get incredibly busy.
That could be an option, just in recognition that MPs' staff are
being hit quite hard with the decline in salaries and the rise
in catering prices at the same time.
Q81 Bob Russell:
If I could ask a second question? On the loyalty scheme at paragraph
c), you've highlighted one commodity, which is a bottle of Coke,
with quite a substantial mark-up within the estate as off the
estate. Are there other examples? I'm just wondering whether perhaps
an entrepreneurial member of staff could bulk buy and make a killing.
Even if you bought pasta in the Debate now, which is about I think
£3.25, you could buy a pot of pasta for £1.20 in Tesco
Louise Haigh: There
is also confectionary I believe.
Yes. A lot of our members have been in touch to say that prices
of standard chocolate bars is now higher on the estate than it
is in Tesco, which is just around the corner but leaving the estate
can often be quite difficult. Usually, when you're on the estate
for the day, you are basically here all day.
Louise Haigh: It's
just not clear what the benchmark has been for setting the price.
It's not clear whether it's just about removing the subsidy rather
Q82 Thomas Docherty:
First of all, can I ask you to clarify what you understand, or
what your members understand, are the access arrangements to things
like Strangers' Bar, the Terrace and the Terrace cafeteria?
Louise Haigh: Sorry,
which bar was that? Strangers' Bar?
Thomas Docherty: Strangers'
Bar, the Terrace as a whole and the Terrace cafeteria.
Louise Haigh: My
understanding and, I believe, the understanding of the members
is that Strangers' bar access is only as MPs' guests. To the Terrace,
I believe we have access on Fridays and during recess periods.
What was the other one?
Q83 Thomas Docherty:
And the terrace from Strangers' Bar?
Louise Haigh: That
is the same: only with an MP, I understand.
Q84 Thomas Docherty:
On your submission, you saidand apologies for not getting
this properlyon the Fridays, do you have the right to bring
guests when you go on to the Terrace cafeteria?
Louise Haigh: No,
that wasn't my understanding that we were, but it seems to be
administered haphazardly and sometimes MPs' staff are allowed
to take on interns or potentially staff that don't have a full
pass, and other times they are not. We would like clarification
Q85 Thomas Docherty:
When you said in your submission on the point about access to
the Terrace for lunch on Fridays, you said, "On some days,
staff with interns who're still waiting for their pass will be
allowed access and on other days they will not." I take you
meant by "on some days" that it is random? It is not
consistent to Fridays?
Louise Haigh: Yes.
It depends entirely who is on the security on that day.
Q86 Thomas Docherty:
If I understand correctly, what you are asking for is, for those
days for which you have access, you would like the right effectively
to bring guests on to the Terrace?
Louise Haigh: To
bring guests that are stafffor example, interns who very
rarely have full pass entitlement.
Q87 Thomas Docherty:
Do you understand the reasons why interns, who I think you said
yourself are on short term, won't necessarily have passes, because
they haven't been security cleared? Does that make sense?
Louise Haigh: Yes,
but they've been security cleared to get on to the estate and
they've been employed presumably by the MP, so they have been
cleared in that sense.
Q88 Thomas Docherty:
But the staff would then effectively take responsibility for vouching
for them? If I understand you correctly, what you are saying is
MPs' staff and MPs' researchers would take responsibility for
vouching for the interns on the Terrace, and that is the access
you want on the nonsitting days and the Fridays?
Louise Haigh: Yes,
Q89 Thomas Docherty:
My final point, Sir Alan, is that there have been a number of
incidents in recent months where MPs' staff have been on the Terrace
at night. Do you think that the union has a role to play in raising
awareness that staff shouldn't be on the Terrace, and particularly
that their behaviour on the Terrace needs to be adjusted accordingly?
Louise Haigh: I
think we can certainly play a role in raising awareness but if
they are there as guests of MPs
Thomas Docherty: They're
Louise Haigh: Okay.
It should be taken into account that a lot of the new intake are
former researchers and will be in social circles with researchers
now, so a lot do take them on in that respect. Certainly we can
play a role in raising that, absolutely.
Q90 Geoffrey CliftonBrown:
I wouldn't want you to go away thinking this Committee wasn't
sympathetic with your members, because we have consistently asked
questions about the impact of these price rises on your members
and that is where I want to question you. I totally understand
that, but since we've had the price increases, I haven't noticed
any huge decline in the number of staff using the Debate. Have
you any evidence of that, and also have you any evidence that
your staff have had to stop using it and instead have gone outside
and bought lunch at Tesco or whatever?
We have had members get in touch when we asked for their views
on the written and the oral evidence that we are giving now who've
said that is something they are increasingly doing. The problem
is that there is not a lot of other places that you can go. You
can go to the Tescos and the Neros, but because of the location
of where we work, there is not a local coffee shop necessarily
that you can pop out to, so it is the only place really. We have
had evidence of people increasingly doing that, of people making
their own lunch and bringing it in and that kind of thing. Ultimately,
if that happens en masse and that increases, there will be a decline
in revenue on the estate.
Q91 Geoffrey Clifton-Brown:
I don't notice, and maybe I am wrong, the decline in the number
of staff using the Debate. If anything, the queue is longer now
than it was before.
It may just take a while for the cost to hit. It takes a while
for people to change their behaviour.
A lot of people would probably still be queuing up to buy teas
and coffees and they are still eating their lunch outside the
Debate, but a lot of people are still bringing their own or going
out to Tesco to buy things.
Q92 Tessa Munt:
I just wanted to check something. I'm not entirely clear about
why it is that people who are interns don't always have passes,
seeing as how one can get a pass for someone who is on work experience,
as I understand it. I'm not entirely sure why your interns don't
The second question I would like to ask you, which
is sort of connected, is that I would envisage that, given the
complexity of a pass like this, one can grade it so that you could
get some sort of staff discount. That would, of course, require
each of you to buy a meal and not to be buying each other's meals.
I just wondered if you saw that as being workableif there
was something that you flash across the EPOS system on the till,
whether you could limit yourselves to buying a meal each as opposed
to buying meals for others also, if you were to get a discount?
Louise Haigh: I
presume it could be limited to use, say, once or twice a day for
a lunch or evening meal. As for the pass for interns, often because
it can be very short term or perhaps they have used their pass
allocation on fulltime staff, on permanent staff, then a
lot of the times, they don't have enough.
As Interns Officer and when we've had interns in the office, one
thing I've come across is, for example, in half term, when we
had two or three people coming in, and you contact the Pass Office
to try and get them short-term passes, the Pass Office often just
say it is easier, if they're only in for the Monday to Wednesday
or Thursday when the Members are going back to the constituency,
for them to have the paper passes for those days and be accompanied
by a staff member.
Q93 Mike Weatherley:
I am hugely sympathetic to what you've got here and I congratulate
you in making very reasonable proposals. To answer that last question,
I have interns that don't have the pass, and they have to be escorted
elsewhere, so I see the problem that you come up with on a daily
basis. I only have one very small question on the whole thing.
What is the capacity of Annie's Bar? How many people? How big
is it? I've never been itI'm new here.
Louise Haigh: Of
Annie's Bar? I've never been in it either. I know it is closed.
Q94 Mike Weatherley:
I appreciate it is closed now, but if it were open, is it the
size of Strangers' Bar? Is it double the size? Is it this room?
Does anyone in this room know?
Chair: If I could just
contribute to that point, I was going to ask a question as well.
I know, simply because I made a point of going there,
that it is unused at the moment. I was very conscious of the fact
that we had lost Bellamy's bar and I was asking the question as
to whether or not there was sufficient footfall to justify reinstating
Annie's Bar as a bar for staff. There are doubts on management
side as to whether it would work for that purposethat particular
premisesand whether in fact, as it's an enclosed box, it
would find much attraction with people, compared with what the
Bellamy's bar had, with the great view out on to Parliament Square
and so on. I think if there was evidence provided that there was
a demand by staff for a bar that was their territory, we might
see whether or not it could be provided. I'm just not sure that
the Annie's Bar space is in least bit attractive for that purpose.
That is the trouble. I take note of the points you've made in
that and I think we just need to see harder evidence rather than
mere speculation as to whether or not we would get the demand.
Q95 Mike Weatherley:
Apart from the fact that I think there is a lot of demand for
another facility on the estate, since people say it to me all
the time, I just want to know how big it is. Is it a really small
box room or is it a large room?
Chair: It has a capacity
of about 50. I am just trying to imagine. It is less than half
the size of this Committee room.
Q96 Mike Weatherley:
So about the same as Strangers' then?
Chair: Smaller than the
Q97 Nigel Mills:
Speaking of someone who has a morning trip to Tesco to buy Coke,
chocolate biscuits and fruit juice, I entirely agree that putting
the price up on those easily substitutable items is not a clever
way of trying to make money in this area. When we had a tour of
the catering facilities last week, the one in Parliament Street
is a lot less used than the ones in Portcullis House. Do you sense
that staff look at menus and choose where they want to eat, or
is it always the same place? Would different pricing encourage
some people to move over to different buildings? If you knew that
Parliament Street was empty Monday to Tuesday, if it was 20p or
50p cheaper, do you think that would even out the demand somewhat
Louise Haigh: I
absolutely think that the staff look at menus and pricing. I think
if you were looking to increase in footfall in one, lowering the
prices would greatly increase revenue at Bellamy's.
Q98 Thomas Docherty:
I'm curious. Have you had any discussions with your counterparts
in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly about their catering
arrangements and how they provide for their staff? Having worked
a very long time ago at the Scottish Parliament, I know they do
provide staff discounts on some things but they don't do it for
canteen staffing, if that makes sense. You can get a discount
on stuff at the gift shop and so on of 10%, but you don't get
a discount on eating therethe theory being the food is
subsided as it is, so effectively you get a second subsidy. Have
you talked to either the Welsh or the Scots about that?
Louise Haigh: We
haven't. As is part of our submission, it's not unusual across
the public or private sector to have a subsidised catering arrangement
in a workplace. No we haven't had any discussion is the answer
to your question, but certainly in previous workplaces for me,
there have often been staff canteens or subsidised food arrangements.
Q99 Nigel Mills:
Do your members have suggestions for things that are missing from
the estate? Do you ever think, "Why isn't there a pizza place
or a sandwich place?" Is there anything that you can't get
that you would really like to see here?
Louise Haigh: No.
Everything that we have come across with our members has been
included in the written submission.
Chair: That makes you
more satisfied than Members, I think.
Thank you very much indeed for coming to see us and
for the submission you've made. We have a little extra time over
the next few weeks to complete our inquiry, as we are not under
the pressure we thought we were, so we shall deliberate in due
course. Thank you very much indeed.