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

Conclusions and recommendations

In house or outsourced

1.  While the peculiar nature of the parliamentary timetable and security demands mean that it is highly unlikely that staffing costs could be reduced to commercial levels, we consider that the current level of staffing cost and management cost to income is excessive and represents an unacceptably high cost to the taxpayer, especially at a time of spending constraint in all public services. We urge the Commission and the Board of Management to take positive steps in the near future to address this issue and recommend that progress be made by 31 December 2011 and a report made back to this Committee by 31 March 2012 on whether a process to outsource the service should commence. (Paragraph 56)

Staff efficiencies

2.  HR and finance costs attached to the House's Catering and Retail Service appear to be three times the average expected in the commercial sector. We recommend that steps be taken by the Department of Facilities to find efficiencies in that area. (Paragraph 57)

3.  We recommend that the Department of Facilities seek to save £110,000 a year by absorbing light cleaning duties into Catering and Retail staff duties. (Paragraph 58)

Gross profit levels

4.  We recommend that steps be taken incrementally to even out disparities identified in gross profit levels in outlets that are similar in style of provision and purpose. (Paragraph 60)


5.  We recommend that the Members' Dining Room offer a mixture of fixed price and a la carte prices. (Paragraph 65)

The impact on staff

6.  We recommend that the Catering and Retail Service monitor the impact of price increases on footfall in staff cafeterias and identify means of reclaiming some of the trade from staff that has clearly been lost as a result of prices increasing. We recommend that, until the new patterns of trading have become clear, the Commission consider no short-term further increases in those cafeterias above the rate of inflation. (Paragraph 71)

Staff loyalty schemes

7.  We recommend that the Catering and Retail Service introduce a staff loyalty or discount scheme to benefit the lower-paid staff of Members and the House, with the specific intention of encouraging back customers who appear to have been lost as a result of price increases. (Paragraph 74)


8.  We reject any proposal to reduce subsidy by lowering the quality standards required for foodstuffs purchased by the House of Commons, particularly in respect of animal welfare standards. (Paragraph 77)


9.  The management of the service needs to respond more quickly and effectively to complaints about poor service, and to manage poor service out of the system. We recommend more comprehensive customer service training be provided and that members of staff be enabled to spend some time in the commercial sector to update and broaden customer service skills. We support enhancement of the existing 'mystery shopper' programme to enable the gathering of more customer data about the quality of service offered across the Estate. (Paragraph 80)

Internal marketing

10.  We agree with the Executive Chef that much could be done more actively to promote the service and what is on offer in individual cafeterias on different days via dedicated intranet pages under the Chef's own control. We recommend that these be provided to him. (Paragraph 81)

11.  We recommend that the Catering and Retail Service review product signage and labelling in each outlet to ensure that customers may make better informed decisions on the basis of price. Improved signage and labelling would also enable the department to tell its own 'good news stories' on the use of fresh seasonal ingredients, healthy cooking techniques and sustainable, organic or Fairtrade produce. (Paragraph 82)

Made-to-order sandwiches

12.  We recommend that a made-to-order sandwich service be introduced in Portcullis House, on a trial basis if need be to test demand. Such a service might be provided within an enlarged Debate cafeteria, with a separate queuing system, and some additional tables and seating both within and outside the Debate. This could be done by reducing the space presently occupied by the Members Centre and by restricting that centre to use by Members, as was always intended, and not as an overspill space for additional Members' staff. The sandwich service and a premium coffee bar could be placed in the additional space gained without any need to disrupt or reconfigure the existing Debate service. (Paragraph 84)

VAT exemption

13.  We recommend that the Catering and Retail Service investigate with HMRC whether VAT exemptions should apply to relevant takeaway food items sold on the Estate, and pass on any saving to those who purchase takeaway items. (Paragraph 85)

Members' Dining Room

14.  We recommend that the Catering and Retail Service identify means to reduce staffing levels in the Members' Dining Room without entirely removing the table service valued by many Members. We recommend that the service seek to capture more of the untapped demand among the Members for whom the room exists by offering a wider range of simpler, lighter, inexpensive options as well as a few main courses and the buffet currently provided, and we welcome the positive response the Catering and Retail Service has already made to this suggestion. (Paragraph 97)

15.  With the caveat that acceptable reciprocal use of Lords facilities should first be negotiated, we agree that all Peers should be able to use the Members' Dining Room at lunch times, and are open to the suggestion that that access should be extended in the evenings, too, perhaps with a limit on the number of Peers who may use the Room at that time. (Paragraph 98)

Strangers' Dining Room, Adjournment and Churchill Room

16.  We recognise that changing times, healthier lifestyles and stricter working practices have reduced formal lunching, and that the four main Dining Rooms which currently offer full table service lunches on the House of Commons Estate collectively suffer from significant under-occupancy. We acknowledge that the Catering and Retail Service has proposed reducing their number to three in order to reduce the cost of providing that service. (Paragraph 105)

17.  We believe that offering a wider range of food styles and less formal service in the Churchill Room would help to raise revenues while also reducing costs to some degree. We reiterate the nine-year old suggestion of our predecessor Committee that the Churchill Room might provide a lighter, quicker, cheaper style of service at lunch time and a waiter service in the evenings, possibly including a carvery service. (Paragraph 106)

18.  We recognise that remodelling the Adjournment would provide more space for the type of food offer made to all parliamentary pass holders in the cafeterias that are already overcrowded and most popular, but would be reluctant to lose the lighter, more modern style of food and service that has been achieved in that location. (Paragraph 107)

19.  More can be done to vary the food styles on offer. At present, customers may broadly choose between cafeteria food or high-quality dining. There is a gap for the provision of mid-level, high street type offers such as pizza, pasta, Thai, Indian, Chinese or sushi, and we recommend that the Catering and Retail Service produce proposals outlining what might be achieved in that respect. (Paragraph 108)

20.  We suggest that widening access to the underused Dining Rooms might also help raise more revenue and is an alternative to simply reducing the variety and quality of what is on offer. To that end, we recommend that members of the Press Gallery be granted access to the Adjournment with the right to entertain three guests (and that the success of that be reviewed 12 months from the date of the Commission's response to this Report), that all Peers be granted access to the Adjournment, the Strangers' Dining Room and the Churchill Room, without guests on sitting Monday and Tuesday evenings but with up to three guests at other times, and that full pass holders be granted access to the Churchill Room and Adjournment Restaurant at lunch time. (Paragraph 110)

21.  We recommend that an integrated booking system for the Dining Rooms be introduced as soon as possible, in order that customers turned away from one may be advised which others have tables available. (Paragraph 111)

22.  We recommend that Members retain full booking rights for the Churchill Room and Adjournment, and that other user groups may book tables on a first-come, first-served basis no more than two working days before dining. We acknowledge that this may mean Members who seek to book late or turn up without a booking may be turned away. This is an inevitable consequence of widening access, and the Strangers' and Members' Dining Rooms will continue to be available primarily to Members as at present. (Paragraph 112)

Members' Tea Room

23.  We agree that it makes sense to close the Members' Tea Room on non-sitting Fridays, and recommend that the Catering and Retail Service close it earlier than 2013-14, as is presently proposed. (Paragraph 115)

24.  We oppose any proposal to reduce the service offered in the Members' Tea Room. (Paragraph 116)

Terrace Cafeteria

25.  We see no reason why the Members-only area of the Terrace cafeteria should not be opened to all users on days when the House does not sit, including recesses and non-sitting Fridays. (Paragraph 118)

26.  We suggest that Members themselves be mindful, particularly at Tuesday and Wednesday lunch times, that sitting in the 'public' section while Members-only seating remains unused may be depriving someone else of somewhere to eat. (Paragraph 118)

27.  We recommend that the Catering and Retail Service make an estimated saving of £81,000 a year by introducing self-clearing to the Terrace and Debate cafeterias. We see no reason why this should not be done long before the planned start date of 2013-14. (Paragraph 119)


28.  We recommend that consideration be given to closing the Debate in the evenings owing to the much-reduced demand at that time of day and the availability of sufficient capacity in the Terrace cafeteria to absorb that custom. (Paragraph 123)

Bellamy's Cafeteria

29.  We agree that the Bellamy's Cafeteria should open only between 12 noon and 3 pm in order to reduce the costs of staffing an all-day service by approximately £54,000 a year. (Paragraph 125)

7 Millbank

30.  We see no reason to retain the evening service at the Portcullis Cafeteria in 7 Millbank given the small number of transactions carried out there each evening, and we note that staff in the building have previously been advised that they would lose the service if it was not used. We support the proposal to save £10,000 a year by closing it at 5.30 pm. (Paragraph 129)

31.  The case that 7 Millbank cannot support two full-scale cafeterias is a compelling one and savings can clearly be made there. We support the Catering and Retail Service's proposal to close the 6th floor cafeteria, which will save an estimated £58,000 a year. (Paragraph 131)

Moncrieffs table service

32.  The Catering and Retail Service has proposed closing the table service area of Moncrieffs as a savings measure, and we agree that it should do so, with the proviso that members of the Gallery should instead be able to dine in the Adjournment. (Paragraph 134)

Moncrieffs cafebar

33.  We recommend that Moncrieff's cafebar be renamed Annie's Bar and promoted actively by the Catering and Retail Service to Members' staff and staff of the House as an alternative to the bar lost last year when the nursery was constructed in 1 Parliament Street. We recommend that closing time in the bar return to matching the rise of the House for a trial period of six months, from 10 October 2011, to see whether demand for an evening service exists in that location. (Paragraph 141)

34.  We note the various proposals the Catering and Retail Service has made on altering the service provided in Moncrieffs. We are not yet minded to agree that the approach proposed is the correct one, and ask the service to return to us with alternative proposals on the basis outlined in paragraph 140. (Paragraph 142)

Despatch Box

35.  We are not convinced that the souvenir shop is the ideal location for a new coffee bar, but see the force of arguments that there is latent demand for such facilities and would support the creation of more of them, either within existing facilities or in new locations, including in the Palace of Westminster itself. (Paragraph 145)

36.  Removal of the gift shop in favour of a coffee bar would require replacement of the gift shop elsewhere. The end of the Line of Route in Westminster Hall is the best possible location for a gift shop. (Paragraph 146)

37.  We note the Catering and Retail Service suggestion that installing an espresso coffee machine in the Strangers' Bar could raise footfall there during the quieter daytime hours, and we recommend that that be done regardless of whether the souvenir shop is converted to a coffee bar. Provision of an espresso machine in the Smoking Room might serve the same function. (Paragraph 147)

Pugin Room

38.  We reject the proposal that the Pugin Room should become only a bar. The present range of service should continue to be provided. We note the service's proposal to reduce opening hours because of comparatively slack business before lunch time and later in the evenings. We recommend as an alternative that access to the Pugin Room be granted until midday to all Peers and staff of the House for a trial period of a year to enable the service to test whether demand may rise to fill the slacker early hours. Given the minimal transactions recorded after 10 pm even when the House is sitting, we see no reason why the Room should not close at no later than 10 pm on any night. (Paragraph 149)

Jubilee Cafeteria

39.  We recommend that more visible and more informative signage be erected in Westminster Hall to ensure that visitors are more aware that there is a cafeteria there, at the end of their tours, and that they are welcome to enter it. (Paragraph 150)

Strangers' Bar

40.  We recommend that the security officer based at the entrance to the Terrace be tasked with ensuring that those on the Terrace have the right to be there, by challenging at the door and by ensuring that patrolling officers monitor users of the Terrace regularly. We further recommend that the Strangers' bar staff be encouraged more vigorously to challenge those who do not have that right, including guests of Members or of staff who are or may be present in the bar without their host. (Paragraph 156)

41.  We recommend that access to Strangers' Bar be allowed at any time for Members and up to three guests. Officers of the House and Peers should have access without guests on Mondays and Tuesdays, and with up to three guests for the remainder of the week. Other staff of the House, staff of Members and members of the Press Gallery should have access to the bar and the Terrace on non-sitting Fridays and recess days. (Paragraph 157)

Smoking Room

42.  We recommend that the Catering and Retail Service offer options on how to run the Smoking Room (which might usefully be given a new name) with the minimum staffing necessary in order to reduce the costs of the service, and taking into account our previous recommendation on the possibility of introducing a premium coffee service. We recommend that Members be able to entertain up to three guests in the neighbouring Chess Room. (Paragraph 158)


43.  We fully support moves to raise additional revenue by widening the sale of souvenirs, and in particular moves to sell a full range of souvenirs through the Parliamentary Bookshop. We also suggest that the name of the shop be changed to reflect such wider use. (Paragraph 163)

The public

44.  It is neither feasible or desirable to open the Strangers' Dining Room to the public at times when the House is sitting. We are, however, not opposed in principle, and so long as any concerns raised by the Serjeant at Arms about security can be overcome, to opening the Strangers' and other facilities to the public on non-sitting days, including weekends and recesses, if all costs can be covered and the service offered profitably. (Paragraph 169)

45.  Again, so long as any security concern is dealt with, we believe that allowing public access to the Terrace Pavilion for an afternoon tea service for those who have taken tours would raise revenue for the House and contribute in a minor way to the strategic goal of promoting public knowledge and understanding of the work and role of Parliament through the provision of information and access. (Paragraph 170)

Banqueting and events

46.  Our private sector witnesses unanimously argued that demand for such a prime location would be considerable. Westminster Hall is, of course, a space shared with the House of Lords, and is part of a royal Palace, so considerable negotiation would be required for such a proposal to be put into effect. Once again, though, from the point of view of both revenue and wider public access to a national asset, we support in principle the idea of hiring out Westminster Hall on a limited number of occasions and for events in keeping with the historic character of the location. (Paragraph 173)

47.  We accept in principle that banqueting room hire fees should be brought into line with commercial rates and that fees should be charged for all rooms used for banqueting. (Paragraph 174)

48.  We have recommended elsewhere that banqueting restrictions be loosened so that members of the public may sponsor and host events at times when the House is not sitting. Regardless of whether that is agreed to, we believe that the current restrictions on Peers should be lifted. We agree, again so long as suitable reciprocal access is offered by the Lords, that all Members of the House of Lords should be able to host events in the House of Commons at off-peak times, and recommend that the Catering and Retail Service identify the times at which this policy might usefully apply. (Paragraph 175)


49.  We recommend that the Catering and Retail Service's proposal to save an estimated £116,000 annually through closer co-operation and more joint procurement with the House of Lords be pursued. (Paragraph 179)

Joined-up thinking

50.  We recommend that the House of Commons Commission and the House Management Board begin discussions with their counterparts in the House of Lords on the feasibility of providing a joint catering service for the two Houses. (Paragraph 182)

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