2 Catering to the House|
13. The media refer frequently to the Westminster
village. In fact, with more than 13,000 pass holders on the parliamentary
Estate, the House of Commons, beyond the public, televised face
of its Chamber and Committee rooms, more resembles a small town.
The task of feeding thousands of people daily, with differing
incomes, with many and varied demands, and at often unpredictable
hours, falls to the Catering and Retail Service. There is much
comment, accurate and otherwise, on the fact that the House contains
a variety of restaurants and bars, and that the service is provided
at public subsidy. The service, which employs nearly 300 people,
has one of the highest profiles of any provided by the House,
and is among those most commented upon by Members and others.
14. We set the following terms of reference:
- to review access to catering
and retail services, including considering opportunities to widen
access to under-used services, and the risks and benefits that
- to consult on what Members, their staff, staff
of the House and other users of services need and prefer;
- to consider the relationship between the House
of Lords' and the House of Commons' catering services; and
- to consider how catering and retail service might
be improved without requiring the expenditure of additional resources.
15. As we launched the inquiry, in September, two
linked changes in the way the service is provided were occurring,
which have informed much of the comment we have received from
Members, staff and others. First, the service was, at the instruction
of the House of Commons Commissionwithout consultation
with this Committee or the Finance and Services Committeeraising
its prices to raise an extra £1.267 million a year. Secondly,
the Commission approved plans to reduce spending on the House
administration by at least 17 per cent over the next four years.
The Catering and Retail Service was asked by the House's Board
of Management to identify savings or new revenues that would reduce
its annual subsidy by up to 50 per cent.
16. The Catering and Retail Service has put forward
specific proposals intended to make savings by 2014-15, as requested,
and we shall comment on each in due course.
From the outset, however, we believe that the Service can be provided
more cost-effectively and efficiently than it is at present. Our
approach towards how that may be done has been to consider how
demand and revenues may be raised and the Service made more responsive,
rather than its seeking to reduce or close facilities simply on
grounds of current footfall or cost. As the Director of the Catering
and Retail Service, Mrs Sue Harrison, has told us, demand has
risen consistently over the past decade as the number of staff
based on the Estate has grown.
For that reason we are reluctant to see facilities lost rather
than used more efficiently and effectively.
17. Ours is far from the first inquiry into this
subject: our predecessor committee produced a similar Report in
2005, and Catering Committees produced further reports in 2002,
1994, 1990, 1979, 1967 and 1966 and so on deep into the past.
Some of the themes that we identify here have arisen before, particularly
as regards the range and exclusivity of services provided largely
or wholly for Members, such as the Members' Dining Room, and the
need or desire for more low-price, quick-service facilities, such
as the Tea Room and the Despatch Box. It is frustrating to discover
that previous Committees have over the past two decades correctly
identified problems that still existthe decline in formal
lunching, the slowness of service in the Members' Dining Room,
for examplebut to which the House's management has not
yet found a solution.
18. Two questions in particular arise again: whether
the House is best served by providing its catering service in
house or should contract out some or all of it; and how much subsidy
is justifiable. We shall turn to both in subsequent chapters,
but enter two early notes: we recognise the difficulties that
would be raised and costs incurred by any move towards outsourcing
the service; and we note that many workplaces subsidise catering
to a significant degree.
19. We have received formal submissions from Members
of Parliament, their staff, staff of the House and other users,
such as members of the Press Gallery. We have, as individual Members,
received many more informal submissions from all those groups.
We have taken evidence from the Catering and Retail Service, from
user groups across the House, and from entrepreneurs from outside
the House on how the Service might better fulfil its potential.
We are particularly grateful to four witnesses from the commercial
sector for sharing with us, at our request, their expertise: Duncan
Ackery, Hamish Cook, Oliver Peyton and Rupert Ellwood.
20. This Report is based on more information than
we have been able to publish, since specific financial information
about the service may require to remain commercially confidential
if future steps are taken to restructure the service. That information
will be made available to the House of Commons Commission, to
which we report. Published evidence not printed with this Report
is available on our Committee's web pages.
21. We have been advised by Jon Hewett of EP Business
Evolution and are grateful to him and to his colleague, Sally
Houston, for the considerable work they have done in analysing
financial information, identifying witnesses and guiding us in
drafting this Report.
2 http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/offices/commons/house-of-commons-commission/minutes/hccminutes2010/hcc-210610/. Back
Ev 77 Back
The proposals are listed at Ev 76-84 Back
Ev 53 Back
In reverse order, see: Administration Committee, Second Report
of Session 2005-06, Refreshment Department Services, HC
733; Catering Committee, First Report of Session 2001-02, Refreshment
Facilities in the House of Commons, HC 832; Catering Committee,
First Report of Session 1993-94, Refreshment Services for the
House of Commons, HC 75-I; Catering Sub-Committee, First Report
of Session 1989-90, The future development of Refreshment Facilities
in the House, HC 234; Session 1978-79, HC 120; Session 1967-68,
HC 46; and Session 1966-67, HC 384. Back
HC (1993-94), para 6.1; and HC (2005-06), para 68. Back