3 The Catering and Retail Service
purpose of the Service
22. The remit of the Catering and Retail Service
is to "meet the needs of Members, staff and visitors to the
The service employs 286 full-time equivalent staff.
Its cost, around £14 million (with about £8 million
returned in sales, and, therefore, a subsidy of about £6
million), is entirely funded from the House of Commons administration
budget. Most of the
outlets provided are also available, however, to members and staff
of the House of Lords and other non-Commons user groups, such
as civil servants, police and security officers, and members of
the Press Gallery. Until 2008, the Refreshment Department was
a stand-alone department headed by its Director as a member of
the House of Commons Board of Management; since then, it has been
merged into the Department of Facilities, and board-level membership
resides with the Director General, John Borley.
23. The primary reason for having a catering service
at all must be to assist Members, their staff and staff of the
House in ensuring that Parliament's work is done, a purpose which
is assisted by the proximity of catering facilities to the offices
in which they work. Without that purpose, there would be no reason
for the Catering and Retail Service to exist. Because of that
purpose, its primary motivation cannot be purely commercial or
profit-based, but it should be provided as cost-effectively and
as efficiently as possible.
Who eats where?
24. The service faces the difficulty that its 'market'
is comprised of significantly different user groups working at
frequently unusual and different hours and on substantially different
pay scales. Around 13,000 people hold passes allowing access to
the parliamentary Estate, and by implication to the catering facilities
within it. A rough breakdown of the major groups is contained
in table 1.
Table 1: Passholders
on the parliamentary Estate
||Staff of 2 Houses
Table 1: derived from figures supplied by Serjeant
at Arms, 4 November 2010.
25. The particular position of Members means that
a number of facilities, or sections of facilities, are set aside
entirely or wholly for their and their guests' use, although the
650 Members represent only 5 per cent of the total internal 'market'
for catering facilities. The nature of this workplace makes that
necessary, but we are keen to stress that Members should not forget
the needs of their own staff, the staff of the House and the other
users of the service who support us in our work and the House
of Lords in theirs.
26. Demand for catering services within the House
has risen over the past two decades. Around 900,000 meals or snacks
were served annually in the early 1990s; last year, that figure
rose to just under 1,700,000.
Several factors explain this growth in demand. First, the number
of Members' staff has expanded consistently. Members "should
not expect to be able to accommodate more than two members of
staff comfortably at Westminster" according to the Administration
Committee's 2005 review of accommodation on the Estate.
There is continued pressure for that average to be breached, and
a growing use of interns and part-time staff has increased the
number of people on the Estate.
27. Secondly, styles of eating have changed over
the past 20 years so that the rising number of transactions may
represent a significant growth in grazing and snacking throughout
the day. The Director of the Catering and Retail Service told
us that this "mirrors trends observed in other workplace
catering situations, where work is increasingly conducted in informal
meetings, semi-social situations scheduled throughout the day,
often in communal areas such as the catering facilities and accompanied
by a tea/coffee or light snack".
The opening in 2000 of Portcullis House, with its wide and airy
atrium and restaurant, cafeteria and coffee bar have considerably
accelerated that trend within the parliamentary Estate.
28. Thirdly, the House has, over time, become more
regular in its pattern of work. As the Director notes: "The
days when Members and their staff were simply not present on the
parliamentary Estate during recesses are long gone".
This trend will only continue with the reintroduction of September
sittings to break the long summer recess.
Sitting hours of the House
29. The greatest single factor affecting demand for
routine, as opposed to banqueting, services has always been and
remains the sitting hours of the House of Commons, and the business
being transacted in the Chamber on any given day. The current
standard sitting patternuntil 10.30 pm on Monday and Tuesday,
until 7.30 pm on Wednesday and until 6.30 pm on Thursdaymeans
that demand for dining services, in particular, peaks early in
the week, then tails off. Considerable peaks and troughs exist,
with the highest peaks concentrated into the 50 hours between
Monday and Wednesday lunch times. In other words, business is
briskest, particularly in Members' facilities, on the days when
the Chamber sits late and is likely to be considering substantive
business requiring votes.
30. The present Parliament is less than a year old,
and 232 of its 650 Members entered at the 2010 general election.
The pattern of behaviour of the new Parliament is not yet established,
but it seems clear that, to greater degree than used to be the
case, more Members for seats distant from Westminster have their
main home in London than in their constituencies. This creates
more reasons why, when opportunity permits, more Members will
choose to go home than stay within the Palace precincts in the
evening hours. The new expenses rules introduced by the Independent
Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) are also having their
effect, and not always in a manner wholly foreseen. The 128 Members
who live closest to Westminster, for example, received no additional
accommodation allowance after the May 2010 general election.
This meant, for most, a considerable commute to their homes, giving
reason not to remain within the precincts if they were able to
31. The Procedure Committee is inquiring into whether
the present sitting hours of the House should be altered, and
we have asked it to consider the positive or negative impact on
catering business and staffing of any change it proposes. We note
that any move toward '9 to 5' on Mondays and Tuesdays would reduce
demand for evening services and would require decisions to be
taken about the level to which outlets such as the Members' and
Strangers' Dining Rooms continue to operate and the level of subsidy
required to maintain them. It would also have an impact on revenues
raised during the daytime from visitors and other users.
9 Ev 61 Back
Ev 66 Back
See Ev 61-63 Back
See House of Commons Commission, June 2007, Review of Management
and Services of the House of Commons: Report by Sir Kevin Tebbit
KCB CMG, HC 685. Back
Ev 53-54 Back
Administration Committee, House of Commons Accommodation,
Third Report of Session 2005-06, HC 1279, para 105. Back
Survey of Services 2010, Report by FDS International, House of
Commons, February 2011, pp. 40-42. Back
Ev 54 Back
Ev 54 Back
Two more have since entered as a result of by-elections. Back
Recent rule changes are reducing this number to 97. See footnote