Catering and Retail Services in the House of Commons - Administration Committee Contents

8  Conclusion

183. We have in the course of this Report supported proposals made by the Catering and Retail Service which, if adopted, would reduce the annual subsidy by about £1.25 million. This represents considerable progress towards the target of reducing the overall subsidy by 50 per cent. We have also made recommendations of our own which we believe would reduce the overall subsidy further by increasing revenue from raised demand for existing services in both the catering and retail sides of the operation. Should the Commission approve the approach we suggest, we would expect the Catering and Retail Service to return over the next year or two to report to us its progress towards meeting the target of reducing that subsidy from about £6 million to about £3 million by 2014-15.

184. In many ways, the Catering and Retail Service deserves considerable credit—it serves thousands of meals every day to a diverse and often demanding customer base, and the productivity improvements it has achieved over the last decade are commendable. One massive problem undermines its achievements, though, and that is the cost of staffing. Those costs currently account, if pensions are included, for all the revenue taken by the service, and that is before the cost of food and beverages, equipment and so on is considered. No commercial operation would continue if it failed to cover even the costs of staffing; the House authorities must find ways to reduce staffing costs at the same time as they seek to raise income so that a more workable long-term balance between staff costs and sales may be struck.

185. Our inquiry has taken place against the background of a savings programme intended to reduce spending across the House service. We fully agree that what the House does should be done as efficiently and effectively as possible and at the lowest achievable net cost to the public purse. Our approach, however, has been to seek means by which the services we have might be better run and better used, rather than simply reducing their cost by curtailing them. Savings need not mean 'cuts' in expenditure, if that expenditure can be balanced by revenue raised, and the Catering and Retail Service, more than any other area of the House's work, provides opportunities to balance what is spent with money earned.

186. In particular, the retail side of the House's service offers considerable scope for expansion, through sales of more souvenirs and through extending public access more widely to facilities perhaps including some of the restaurants hitherto off limits. Indeed, the latter idea strongly supports the House's stated aim of increasing engagement with the public whom we are all here to serve.

187. Nevertheless, we believe that a duty of care extends to all who are part of the parliamentary family. We therefore recommend a deliberative step by experimental step approach which maintains financial accountability in parallel with high-quality and responsive service provision.

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Prepared 10 May 2011