Written evidence submitted by Frances
Allingham, House of Commons staff |
I am responding to the Administration Committee's
request for memoranda for its inquiry into catering services in
the House of Commons. I have been employed at the House for 32
years, firstly in the Clerk's Department and now, after amalgamation,
the Chamber and Committee Services Department. I am a Senior Committee
Assistant at B2 Grade. During my time here both staff of the House
and Members' staff have increased considerably which has encouraged
more outlets to be built.
The views expressed below are mine own.
The subject of access has been a bone of contention
to the lower grade staff over the years and has now become a serious
problem. We understand the need for Members (and Officers of the
House) to have facilities where they can talk and socialise freely
without the fear of appearing in the tabloid newspapers the following
day. However this does not mean their staff have the same rights.
For those of us who's committees meet in, or who's places of work
are near, Portcullis House often have difficulty finding a place
to have lunch as it is full of all sorts of folk entertaining
their friends from outside. The security staff have very little
back-up when they try to enforce the rules except on the Terrace,
where this summer they have been more diligent. My perception
is that since the opening of Portcullis House the facilities there
have become a free-for-all.
I think the rules for lunchtime visitors should stay
the same but in the evening the Strangers' Dining room might be
opened to a certain number of staff. This could be done either
booking on a specific day of the week before, or by ballot once
a term. It would be nice to be able to entertain our loved ones
other than on a Friday lunchtime and would encourage more use
of an oft times under-used facility. Similarly the Terrace Pavilion
in the summer term is often under used except on Friday where
there are always more people wanting to use it than seats available.
As an occupant of 7 Millbank it is great to have
the two facilities here. The food in the cafeteria is excellent
and the baristas in the Millbank Room do any excellent job. However
because of its proximity to 4 Millbank we are now finding ourselves
sharing tables with the journalists. This should not be a problem
but unfortunately these days even broadsheet staff want to sniff
out a story. This can be intimidating to the junior staff who
are not very well paid and who have very little experience of
dealing with them and little time or money to go elsewhere.
This is very simple. What Members, their staff, Officers,
and staff of the House need is somewhere to have breakfast, coffee,
lunch, tea and dinner when Parliament is sitting.
During recesses the timings of the facilities available
need to be reduced.
I accept that prices have had to be raised and think
the use of benchmarking against well known brands and outlets
an acceptable one.
4. HOUSE OF
Traditionally Members, Peers and their staffs did
not use the facilities in each other's House. The exception being
MPs who were ennobled. The officers and staff of each House were
free to use the others cafeterias and bars. This was very useful
as it enabled staff the chance to meet their opposite number to
discuss commonality. During the recesses the Lords facilities
were often closed for the duration so it helped usage in the Commons.
Personally I think that these unwritten rules should
be reinstated particularly for the River Restaurant and bar as
most staff in the House of Lords have very few other places to
Unless of course in the future we have a parliamentary
refreshment department. Then the access rules could be rewritten.
A step too far maybe?
- 1. cut down the number of choices available
on the menus;
- 2. consider which facilities need to serve
full meals after 8.30 pm when the House is sitting; and
- 3. rethink the number of outside pass holders
who need to use the facilities particularly in the Recess.
I would like to end by saying that whatever happens
the staff in the Refreshment Department have a hard job trying
to please everybody. They are to be congratulated in that they
do so willingly and pleasantly.