5 Individual Outlets on the Estate|
86. As one of our principal aims in producing this
Report is to seek means of raising footfall within the Commons'
catering facilities, the question of who is allowed to use each
was part of our terms of reference. Early in the inquiry, we discovered
that a complicated set of rules currently applies, accreted over
the years rather than worked out as an holistic package. The rules
are confusing and differ from place to place and day to day. They
are also, the parliamentary intranet notwithstanding, not always
easy to find. For that reason, particularly in a new Parliament
in which many new Members have been joined by new staff, we discovered
that potential users of the Estate are uncertain of which facilities
they may use, when they may do so and whether they may entertain
87. We have also had specific requests for new access
to some facilities. Mr Speaker asked us to consider whether dining
facilities should be opened to all Members of the House of Lords
(instead of, at present, to Peers who were formerly MPs). The
Press Gallery has asked for access to a wider range of facilities
than it presently enjoys.
Staff unions also seek greater access for more House and Members'
staff, in particular to the Terrace and the Strangers' Bar.
Our guiding principle in considering access to each individual
facility will be to extend access where it is possible to do so
without compromising the first principle of the servicethat
it should support Members and those who sustain them in doing
the work of Parliament.
88. Members may use any of the facilities on the
Commons part of the Estate and some parts of the Lords' estate,
but very few facilities are reserved entirely for Members. The
Smoking Room allows access to no-one but Members; but the Members'
Tea Room and the Members' Dining Room are open to a limited number
of staff, and the Strangers' Bar to a wider market still. Members
may also use a section of the Terrace and seats in the Terrace
cafeteria are reserved for them and their guests, although it
has proved difficult to police these areas. Members also have
greater rights than other groups to entertain guests in the major
Members' Dining Room
89. On the general question of access to facilities,
it is essential to the primary purpose of Parliament that its
Members be able to meet informally in private surroundings. The
Members' Dining Room provides such surroundings, but is, in per
capita terms, the second most highly subsidised facility, behind
only the press dining facilities. The Members' Dining Room service
is not, incidentally, provided in the same room at all times:
the smaller of the two Dining Rooms on the principal floor is
used for lunch every day and for dinner on Wednesday; the larger
of the two rooms (which otherwise serves as the Strangers' Dining
Room) is used for dinner on Monday and Tuesday.
7: Members' Dining Room Usage, By OutletLunch
90. Footfall figures, in tables 7 and 8, demonstrate
that the Dining Room is significantly underused, particularly
at lunch time, and that use has dropped substantially over the
year from 2009 to 2010. The number of lunches served dropped from
103 a week in October to December 2009 to 82 a week in the same
period in 2010. Total capacity in both cases was around 240 a
week, meaning that weekly occupancy was around 40 per cent in
2009 and down to around 30 per cent in 2010. Daily transaction
figures show a similar downward patternthere were 13 lunch
covers on Mondays in 2010 compared with 19 in 2009, for example.
Only on Wednesday does the lunch service achieve 50 per cent occupancy,
with 32 of the 60 places available filled.
8: Members' Dining Room coversdinner
91. The evening service fares better, with occupancy
approaching 66 per cent on Mondays and Tuesdays, and slightly
higher than it was in 2009, but low on Wednesdays, having halved
on its 2009 levels. Some 98 covers were served on Mondays from
October to December 2010, some 92 on Tuesdays (against a capacity
of 150) and only 31 on Wednesdays. That makes 221 covers a week,
which even if no Member used the service twice would leave more
than 400 not using a service provided only for them on an average
92. The clear conclusion to draw is that the lunch
and evening services offered in the Members' Dining Room are not
attracting sufficient custom from the very small market of 650
Members at which they are aimed. Nor is this a new conclusion:
our predecessors of 18 years ago noted that "the Members'
Dining Room is seriously underused at lunch time" and recommended
that something be done to appeal to more Members.
It is deeply depressing to find the situation no better nearly
two decades later.
93. The Catering and Retail Service has proposed
changes, removing waiter service and offering only a buffet and
carvery instead. This would, says the Director of the Catering
and Retail Service, save about £145,000 a year by allowing
staffing to be reduced by four in the dining room and two in the
kitchen that services it.
We are not convinced that this is the right approach and believe
that the Catering and Retail Service should be looking for means
to encourage Members to use the Dining Room rather than reducing
the range and quality of what is on offer there.
94. We believe that several factors play a part in
the Dining Room's failure to attract the majority of those for
whom it is intended. First, and simplest, the fixed price system
introduced for evening meals has been unpopular. Secondly, the
Members' Dining Room by its nature appears formal and traditional,
a style which, even six years ago according to our predecessor
Committee was largely considered "rather stuffy" and
less appealing than the more informal service of the Adjournment
restaurant in Portcullis House.
Thirdly, the greater and increasing popularity of the Tea Room
at both lunch time and dinner time demonstrates that most Members
most of the time seek something quick, light and comparatively
inexpensive. Fourthly, we have heard from too many Members that
service in the Dining Room is too slow and that they are therefore
reluctant to use it.
95. Our predecessors, six years ago, said "we
consider that the time is right to change the style of service
in the Members' and Strangers' Dining Rooms. Our preference would
be for a brasserie-style restaurant with a simple menu changed
on a regular basis, possibly supplemented by a high-quality buffet".
The buffet has been introduced, but the suggestion that the style
of food and service become more varied and less traditional or
even 'outdated' remains valid. There is also an appetite within
the Catering and Retail Service, both at management and staff
level, to appeal more widely to more Members. The Director of
the Catering and Retail Service suggests that "Members choose
not to use the Dining Rooms because that reflects the trend throughout
workplace catering in the past 10 years or more towards much more
casual dining". Members, she says, "have jobs of work
to dothey are in their offices working. They may not wish
to take the time to go to a dining room and have a full meal".
On the staff side, the GMB suggests that change is necessary:
"The department should be allowed to offer a more modern
fine dining style, with some elements of the traditional. Ways
of increasing use of these facilities should be examined so that
use is maximised without increasing the cost".
96. We must recognise that change in the traditional
service offered in the Dining Room has in the past been resisted
by Members themselves, a point made both by the GMB and by our
own predecessors in their Report on catering in 2005.
It is a simple fact that those who do use the service regularly
like it the way it is; the usage statistics suggest, however,
that those Members who regularly use the MDR are in a minority,
and a declining minority at that.
97. 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.
98. The Catering and Retail Service suggests that
an additional £11,000 a year might be raised from the Members'
Dining Room by extending access to all Members of the House of
Lords. At present, only those who were once MPs have such access.
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.
STRANGERS' DINING ROOM, ADJOURNMENT
AND CHURCHILL ROOM
99. Like the Members' Dining Room, the other three
main Dining Rooms which offer table service operate significantly
below capacity both at lunch time and in the evenings. Unlike
the Members' Dining Room, however, take-up of their services increased
in October to December 2010 on the comparable figures for 2009.
This reinforces our view that what is on offer in the Members'
Dining Room is not sufficiently appealing to the Members for whom
it is intended and who, we believe, are dining in other facilities,
possibly because of the spreading perception that service in the
Members' Dining Room is slow.
100. The Strangers' Dining Room, in which Members
may entertain guests, is the least subsidised of the four main
dining rooms, partly because its gross profit levels are the highest,
although it still operates with a substantial subsidy. As table
9 demonstrates, lunch time occupancy barely reaches 50 per cent
of capacity, although the total number of covers served per week
was virtually the same in October to December 2010 as it was in
the same period of 2009, unlike in the MDR where trade has dropped.
Mondays and Tuesdays averaged 48 covers (against a capacity of
90) and Wednesdays 64, with Thursdays dropping off to 39. The
evening service achieves better occupancy rates49 (against
notional capacity of 60) on Mondays, 48 on Tuesdays, and 71 on
Wednesdays. This shows a small increase of 15 across the three
days as a whole (see table 10).
9 and 10: Lunch and dinner occupancy in the Strangers' Dining
Room: October to December 2009 and 2010
101. The Churchill Room makes a good level of gross
profit, but staff and other costs outweigh sales and subsidy is
about two and a half times sales. Lunch time usage is extremely
low: with a capacity of 70, it served an average 13 covers on
Tuesdays from October to December 2010, 26 on Wednesdays and 12
on Thursdays (table 11). That makes a weekly total of 51 against
a notional capacity of 210, or less than 25 per cent. As with
the Members' Dining Room, those figures represent a substantial
drop on the 2009 equivalents, when the average weekly uptake was
84. The evening service shows better occupancy rates and rising
demand on the 2009 figures for Mondays and Tuesdays, if not on
Thursdays (table 12). Monday averages for 2010 were 48, for Tuesday
55 but for Thursday 41, reflecting the fact that Monday and Tuesday
are the busier nights in the Chamber. The Churchill does not open
on Wednesday evenings, being reserved for banqueting.
11 and 12: Churchill Room, lunch and dinner usage: October to
December 2009 and 2010
102. The Adjournment restaurant in Portcullis House
also achieves reasonable gross profits, but the costs of
running it result in a substantial subsidy. As table 13
demonstrates, lunch time covers for the Adjournment from October
to December 2010 were extremely low, and with the exception of
Friday (when the restaurant is open to all staff, not just Members
and senior staff) down on the comparable figures for 2009. With
a notional capacity of 70, the restaurant served 21 covers on
Mondays, 36 on Tuesdays, 35 on Wednesdays, 26 on Thursdays and
33 on Fridays when the House was sitting. Uptake was higher, though
not substantially so, on days when the House was in recess, probably
reflecting the fact that no other Dining Room was open then. That
means that only on Tuesdays did the Adjournment reach 50 per cent
of its lunch time capacity, and then with 36 out of 70. Unlike
the Palace-based Members' and Strangers' Dining Rooms and Churchill,
the Adjournment does not do hugely better for evening meals (table
14). With capacity remaining 70, average on Mondays from October
to December 2010 was 35, on Tuesdays 53, Wednesdays 38 and Thursdays
13 and 14: Adjournment lunch and dinner usage: October to December
2009 and 2010
103. The clear conclusion to be drawn from the figures
for the Strangers', Churchill and Adjournment Dining Rooms is
that restaurant facilities on the Estate have unfilled capacity,
and especially so at lunch time. It is for that reason that the
Catering and Retail Service proposes to close either the Churchill
Room or the Adjournment restaurant. Doing the former would, it
estimates, save about £257,000 a year by reducing staff costs
and providing another venue for banqueting. Doing the latter,
by turning the Adjournment into a premium coffee, sandwich bar
and delicatessen, could yield between £145,000 and £400,000.
104. Both approaches rely on the idea that the current
demand cannot be bettered, and that idea rests at least in part
on long-term trends, particularly at lunch time, and the point
identified above that formal lunching in the workplace has long
been on the wane. None the less, we are not convinced that closing
services rather than seeking to use them better and attract more
custom is the more appropriate solution. It is frustrating to
note that this is not a new problem, and that sensible solutions
have previously been offered by Member Committees: our 2002 predecessors
noted that "Ideally, the Churchill Room would provide a cafeteria
service at lunch time while remaining a waiter-service facility
in the evening".
105. 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
106. 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.
107. 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.
108. 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.
109. The Catering and Retail Service suggests that
£33,000 might be raised from extending access to the Strangers,
the Churchill and the Adjournment to all pass holders, instead
of, as at present, to Members and senior staff of the House.
110. 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.
111. 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.
112. 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.
Members' Tea Room
113. Only Members and a comparatively small number
of senior House staff may use the Tea Room, giving it a fairly
restricted market. The costs of staffing the Tea Room for that
small market make it one of the most highly subsidised facilities
on the Estate, and the profit margin achieved on the sale of goods
in the Tea Room is lower than the average among the cafeteria
facilities. The Room's
usage figures are more encouraging than those for the dining rooms,
although with an average spend per cover of only about £1.60,
the potential for raising significant revenues there is fairly
114. Table 15 shows the weekly average number of
transactions in the Tea Room each day in October to December 2009
and in 2010. It is clear that use of the Tea Room rose by small
but consistent amounts each week in 2010, which, allied with the
drop in use of the Members' Dining Room, may suggest some shift
towards the quicker, lighter, cheaper choice on offer there. The
chart also clearly demonstrates the impact the pattern of the
House's sitting hours has on catering facilitiesrising
from Monday to peak on Wednesday, then tailing off on Thursday
and falling precipitately on Friday. The same pattern applies
in both 2009 and 2010. Within those overall figures, there are
some variations throughout the dayMonday was the most popular
day for evening meal times in both years; Wednesday the most popular
at lunch times, as well as overall.
Members' Tea Room
115. The Catering and Retail Service has made two
savings proposals in relation to the Tea Roomreducing its
menu, to save £74,000 a year, and closing it on non-sitting
Fridays, to save £10,000 annually in staffing costs.
Friday trade, even when the House is sitting, is near minimal.
There was an average of 43 transactions during its seven hours
opening on non-sitting Fridays in 2010, more than half of them
during what might be termed the breakfast period. Given the low
usage of the nearby Pugin Room in the mornings, recorded elsewhere,
we question whether a cold buffet breakfast of the type set out
in many hotels might not be offered there as an alternative, requiring
a smaller number of staff, particularly kitchen staff. Our predecessors
six years ago argued that the Tea Room could close on non-sitting
Fridays, another example of a Member-proposed solution that has
not resulted in action.
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.
116. We are not persuaded that the menu offered in
the Tea Room should be restricted. The Catering and Retail Service's
proposal appears to be based largely on logistics"The
space itself struggles to accommodate the current extent of food
being served, and shoe-horning in additional food offers has compromised
the integrity of the service".
This may be so, and it is clearly inconvenient to have the Tea
Room served from the busy Terrace cafeteria kitchen one floor
below, because of the lack of space available within the room
for cooking facilities. But the popularity of the Tea Room, and
informal consultation with a variety of Members, suggest that
this is a service that the House provides which Members would
rather see extended than reduced. We accept that it would be difficult
to extend it to any great degree, given the space constraints,
but we oppose any proposal to reduce the service offered in
the Members' Tea Room.
117. The Terrace Cafeteria is one of the most popular
facilities on the Estate. It also, in pure cash terms, requires
by far the largest subsidy because of its high staffing costs.
The Terrace cafeteria achieved a gross profit of 28 per cent
in 2009-10. A gross profit of between 35 and 45 per cent would
be appropriate for this type of cafeteria in most workplaces,
most of which would provide it at some subsidy.
The price rises introduced last year will take the 2010-11 gross
profit margin closer to, if not within, that range. In spite of
its high volume of sales, the costs of staffing the Terrace Cafeteria
again outweigh takings by a considerable degree. We are concerned
to see that the number of transactions there dropped on every
day of the week between October to December in 2009 and the same
period in 2010, and we assume that this is a direct result of
the price increases. The same pattern is apparent in other cafeterias
used primarily by staff. The Director of the Catering and Retail
Service told us that average spend is up and that the items no
longer being purchased are of the 'optional' varietythe
bar of chocolate or bag of crisps.
None the less, it would be regrettable if trade were lost from
the very people the cafeteria is intended primarily to serveour
staff and the staff of the House.
16: Terrace cafeteria
118. At present, about a fifth of the Terrace Cafeteria
is reserved for Members only, behind a barrier which, when it
was introduced a decade or so ago, was intended to be moveable
at times of high demand in the 'public' section and low demand
in the Members' section. This has never happened, and it is hard
in any event to see how it could be done easily in a full cafeteria.
The Terrace provides the only full-scale private cafeteria space
for Members (and guests), and it is therefore necessary that the
barrier be retained most of the time. That said, 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. There is no reason
to move the partition; a simple reversible Members Only/Open Access
sign will suffice. 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.
119. The Catering and Retail Service proposes
to save £81,000 annually in staffing costs by introducing
self-clearing systems in the Terrace cafeteria, and in the Debate
in Portcullis House; at present, trays and plates are cleared
up by staff.
Self-clearing systems already operate in the Bellamy's and 7 Millbank
cafeterias. 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.
120. The Debate cafeteria in Portcullis House is
the busiest facility on the Estate, achieving the highest revenue
in 2009-10 from the largest number of covers, at 454,000. Gross
profits at 26 per cent sat below the 35 to 45 per
cent range appropriate for a facility of this type.
Staff costs were considerably closer than in any other major outlet
on the Estate to revenue raised, but were none the less higher.
The Debate is one of the most cost-effective facilities on the
Estate, but as it, too, loses on every cover served, that
achievement is purely relative. Last year's price increases will
raise the gross profit level and make the outlet more cost-effective.
17: Debate Cafeteria, Portcullis House of Commons
121. The downturn in transactions seen in the Terrace
Cafeteria is considerably more marked in the Debate cafeteria(see
table 17), and differs in one quite alarming respect. While the
analysis of the Director of the Catering and Retail Service that
sales of main meals are holding up while sales of 'choice' items
such as chocolate bars are falling appears to be borne out by
meal time usage statistics for the Terrace Cafeteria, there has
been a significant drop in lunch time trade in the Debate.
This is the cafeteria most popular among Members' staff, and we
have heard from Members' staff representatives that a combination
of their comparatively low salaries and the price increases are
encouraging staff to bring in their own food or purchase from
nearby, cheaper supermarkets. Transactions during the 12 noon
to 3 pm lunch time period between October and December 2009, before
the price rises, totalled 4,720 during a sitting week; for the
same period in 2010, they totalled 4,107. That makes a drop of
613 transactions at the busiest time of day, and it seems at least
likely that that means a drop in the number of main meals being
sold, not just side items. A 13 per cent fall in the number of
transactions seems to us to be a matter of concern, particularly
as the Debate is, once again, the place where most Members' staff
might be expected to eat.
122. Arising from that last point is the question
of whether there ought to be a restaurant for staff alone, which
Members are not permitted to use. A staff-only restaurant might
offer new optionslower prices for staff, for example, or
a discount or loyalty scheme of the type described in paragraphs
73 and 74 of this Report. It has never in the past been the House's
practice to provide facilities which Members may not use, however,
and although our counterparts in the House of Lords have a restaurant
designated primarily as a staff restaurantthe River Restaurantthere
is no prohibition on Peers, or indeed Members of this House, using
123. 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.
124. Bellamy's cafeteria, in 1 Parliament Street,
is another facility in which usage appears to have fallen considerably
since the prices were raised last August (table 18). The cafeteria
largely serves the staff of Members based in the building, and
staff of the House from that and neighbouring buildings. Its staffing
costs were more than double the revenue raised, and once total
costs are taken into account, the subsidy on the service was considerable.
Overall weekly covers in a sitting week between October and December
2009 were 3,385; in the same period for 2010, the total was 2,512.
That makes a drop of 873, nearly 25 per cent of transactions.
Once again, we doubt that this precipitate fall can be accounted
for only by the non-sale of side items: this must mean that stafflargely
Members' staff and House Library staff in that locationare
no longer buying as many meals. The significant drop in lunch
time use of the Debate and Bellamy's cafeterias supports the case
that staff, and in particular Members' staff, have been substantially
discouraged from using facilities as a result of the price increases
introduced during last summer's recess. The Catering and Retail
Service needs to reverse this trend as a matter of urgency, and
we have elsewhere suggested staff loyalty or discount schemes
as one potential means of doing so.
18: Bellamy's cafeteria, 1 Parliament Street
125. Significantly more than half the Bellamy's trade
occurs between 12 noon and 3 pm, and the fact that trade is substantially
lower before and after those times has prompted the Catering and
Retail Service to propose that £54,000 a year in staffing
costs be saved by opening the cafeteria only during lunch time.
Lost breakfast business could probably be largely transferred
to Portcullis House, and afternoon business is negligible. 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.
126. It may be worth the Catering and Retail Service
considering whether the unused space in 1 Parliament Street offers
some potential for evening banqueting facilities. For example,
the various Members' Dining Clubs might choose to use the discrete
back room if a suitable menu were on offer, thus releasing banqueting
rooms elsewhere for more commercial purposes. The same point applies
to various other potentially under-used or presently unused facilities
on the Estate, most notably the Dining Room space in Moncrieffs
and some of the meeting rooms on the first floor of Portcullis
House, which might easily be converted for evening use as small
127. Around 650 members of the House's staff are
based at 7 Millbank, which contains two cafeterias. Those staff
work principally for Select Committees, for Hansard, for PICT
and in finance, administration and human resources roles. The
Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) is also
housed there, as is the secretariat of the Commonwealth Parliamentary
Association. Both the ground floor Portcullis Cafeteria and the
6th Floor Cafeteria attract substantial subsidies, raising the
question of whether it is appropriate to operate two outlets in
a building that appears, on the face of it, unlikely profitably
to support just one.
128. As with the Debate in Portcullis House, the
price rises appear to have had a very substantial effect on footfall
in the main cafeteria, the Portcullis (table 19). Total transactions
in a sitting week for October to December 2009 were 5,031; the
comparable figure for 2010 is 3,715. In other words, the number
of covers served has dropped by 27 per cent, and the figures for
the lunch time period, 12 noon to 3 pm, are also substantially
down, implying, as in the Debate, that main meals as well as side
items are no longer being purchased. In short, to some degree,
some staff of the House have been priced out of the cafeteria
that serves them and almost them alone.
19: Portcullis cafeteria, 7 Millbank
129. The Catering and Retail Service suggests that
£10,000 a year might be saved in staff costs by ending evening
service in the Portcullis Cafeteria and closing it at 5.30 pm
instead of 9 pm.
Usage figures demonstrate that between 27 and 40 covers were served
on evenings between October and December 2010, but the Director
of the Catering and Retail Service tells us that more than three-quarters
of those involved items which are also available in the building
from vending machines, such as sandwiches, chocolate bars and
coffee. As few as two transactions a night are for items provided
only by the evening service.
We recognise that ending the service will inconvenience those
few members of staff who use it, who will instead have to make
alternative arrangements or spend more time crossing to the Palace
to use facilities open there. 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
6TH FLOOR CAFETERIA
130. The 6th floor cafeteria offers a smaller and
different service, built around coffee bar type services in the
morning and afternoon and a limited range of hot lunch time food.
It also offers the only outside eating space in that building,
a small terrace overlooking St John's Church in Smith Square.
Its loss in cash terms is not as considerable as in most other
venues, but the level of subsidy required far outweighs current
takings. Once again, the price increases appear to have
influenced a significant reduction in the number of covers. Average
weekly use in a sitting week in October to December 2009 was 915;
in 2010 it had fallen to 716, or by about 22 per cent. Lunch trade
is down over the year, too, but not by as substantial a percentage.
20: 6th Floor Cafeteria, 7 Millbank
131. It is questionable whether a building containing
650 or so staff can support two catering facilities. The Catering
and Retail Service proposes to save £58,000 a year by closing
the 6th floor cafeteria, albeit with the possibility that the
premium coffee service which it offers might be incorporated into
a refurbished Portcullis cafeteria, which does not at present
offer that. We accept
that the joint cost of running two full-time facilities in the
building is too high and that steps should be taken to reduce
it. 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
132. The Press Gallery is comprised of about 300
journalists, of whom about 170 have desk and offices provided
for them by the House and on the premises, within the Palace of
Westminster and, unlike most MPs' offices, close to the Chamber.
Journalists who are not members of the Gallery also have access
to the Estate, and approximately 440 media passes have been issued.
The Gallery has traditionally been provided with subsidised catering
facilities of its own, although access to most of them has been
open to all pass holders in recent years. At present, the Moncrieffs
suitenamed after a distinguished former Press Association
correspondent, Chris Moncrieffincludes a cafebar, a self-service
restaurant and a table-service restaurant.
MONCRIEFFS TABLE SERVICE
133. The dining service provided to journalists is
by some distance the single most highly subsidised service per
cover on the whole House of Commons Estate. The service is restricted
to members of the Gallery and their guests. In other words, the
House is providing at public expense an exceptionally highly subsidised
dining room for the employees of a variety of private sector organisations,
for whom it also provides free accommodation, heating, lighting
and so on.
134. This is clearly not sustainable, but we recognise
that journalists in the Gallery have a need to dine guests sometimes,
and hold valuable political events, including their monthly lunch,
attended by senior political figures, such as the Prime Minister.
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.
MONCRIEFFS SELF-SERVICE CAFETERIA
135. The self-service restaurant opens only at lunch
times and serves an average of around 100 covers Monday to Thursday,
but up to 150 on Fridays, which is Fish and Chip special day (table
21). Formerly open only to the Gallery, it is open now to all
pass holders, but it suffers from being in a comparatively unknown
part of the Palace which is also difficult to reach, principally
by one small lift or one steep staircase from the Colonnade. Use
of the cafeteria has increased over the past few years since access
was opened to all passholders. In 2009-10, the gross profit
achieved was only 21 per cent, the lowest in any of the Estate's
outlets. Staff costs again outweighed revenues considerably
to make the cafeteria the most heavily subsidised of all the
cafeterias (though less so than the dining rooms).
136. Price increases appear to have had less impact
on Moncrieffs than on other cafeterias, with lunch time covers
broadly similar in October to December 2009 to those in the same
period of 2010, perhaps reflecting both the 'captive' nature of
the main client group, the journalists, and the fact that they
are probably better paid and perhaps less price sensitive than
either Members' or House staff.
Moncrieffs self-service restaurant: Covers served October to December
2009 and 2010
137. The cafebar is the most cost-effective of the
three parts of the Moncrieffs service, and one of the more cost-effective
of all the Estate's facilities, albeit still at a comparatively
small cash subsidy. It operates throughout the day and into the
evening on sitting days, with a coffee bar service in the mornings
and afternoons, and alcoholic drinks also available throughout
the day. Daily covers for the measured periods in 2009 and 2010
were broadly similar, though slightly down overall in 2010. Trade
peaks at lunch time, but is fairly steady throughout the day,
but falling to fairly low levels after 5.30 pm. It obtained
a gross profit level of about 34 per cent, significantly lower
than would be expected in an outlet serving this range of goods:
by contrast, within the House, the 6th Floor cafeteria at Millbank
has a 52 per cent gross profit rate, and the Despatch Box's GP
is 74 per cent. Staff
costs were, unusually, lower than the total revenue taken, one
of only four locations on the Estate where this is true.
Overall costs, however, outran revenues, resulting in an overall
subsidy for the cafebar.
22: Moncrieffs cafebar
138. The Catering and Retail Service proposes to
close the cafeteria (while keeping the cafebar open), saying that
that, combined with ending table service, could save an annual
£155,000. The service also suggests that the space vacated
by the service could be used to provide catering staff with meals,
which could take another £48,000 off the subsidy; at present,
staff eat in a variety of cafeterias and attempt to avoid the
busiest periods (when they are, of course, likely to be at work
139. We are not unsympathetic to these proposals,
but believe that more, and more creative, work needs to be done
to identify the best use of the Moncrieffs space. Retaining the
cafebar, perhaps with a slightly enhanced service to make up for
the loss of the self-service part of the suite, is sensible, particularly
if its costs can be reduced or revenues raised sufficiently to
push it into profit rather than the comparatively small loss it
currently incurs. Raising the gross profit level achieved there
will go some way to doing that.
140. Losing the self-service restaurant facilities
altogether would, though, run counter to our belief that the service
may be able to use what it has to raise new revenues rather than
shutting services down. We have suggested that the Catering and
Retail Service return to us with proposals on whether that space
might be used in the evening as a banqueting area for Member-only
groups, such as All-Party Parliamentary Groups or dining clubs,
or for other private events, which in turn might relieve pressure
on profitable banqueting rooms elsewhere in the House. If significant
savings can be made by consolidating staff meals into a single
area, then it should be done; but, as the Press Gallery has pointed
out, if staff meals are served between, say 11.30 am and 12.30
pm, there must be at least some case for continuing to operate
the kitchen already running to serve anyone who wants to eat in
the same space at 12.45, if there is sufficient demand.
141. We also see some potential in the presently
under-used bar area in Moncrieffs, not least because of the demand
among Members staff for a replacement for the Bellamy's Bar in
Parliament Street and the long-gone Annie's Bar. Indeed, we suggest
it may be time to revive the name "Annie's Bar", and
to rebrand the cafebar area to promote among staff of both the
House and Members the fact that it is no longer set aside purely
for use by the Press Gallery. The name Moncrieffs would remain,
of course, for the remaining cafeteria service. 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.
142. 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.
143. The Despatch Box in Portcullis House bears the
distinction of being the only outlet on the Estate actually to
return a net profit rather than requiring a subsidy. Gross profit
was a healthy 74 per cent, a figure in line with the return
expected in high street type coffee bars. Usage figures
for October to December 2009 and 2010 show a slight fall in the
number of transactions recorded in the latter year, and since
prices were increased. Price levels remain below high street equivalents,
however. Trade is fairly steady throughout the week, although
like most Commons outlets it peaks on Tuesdays and Wednesdays
and drops on Fridays. The busiest periods, predictably enough,
are early morning and lunch time, but mid-afternoon trade is also
consistent and steady. The Despatch Box location in the Portcullis
atrium, surrounded by tables where informal meetings may be held,
clearly plays a significant part in the venue's success.
144. The success of the high-volume, high-profit
margin coffee bar prompts the question of whether more such facilities
would be similarly profitable. Certainly a number of the submissions
we have received have suggested that there is some latent demand
for 'good' coffee, and the additional sales of tea, muffins, biscuits
and the like by a small number of staff provide potential for
145. Premium coffee is available to the press in
Moncrieffs, but there is none elsewhere in the Palace. Various
locations have been floated for such a service in the past, including
the former Annie's Bar, but none has the space available in Portcullis
House. The Catering and Retail Service has proposed turning the
current souvenir shop in Medals Corridor, next to the Terrace
Cafeteria, into a takeaway coffee bar, for which the nearest seating
would be either on the Terrace, in the cafeteria, or more probably
back at a desk. It is suggested that such a service might contribute
about £42,000 a year to help reduce the overall subsidy.
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.
146. 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.
147. 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.
148. The Pugin Room, although overall costs were
comparatively low in cash terms, also required a subsidy because
sales were substantially lower. Although the Pugin Room is open
from 9.30 am, considerably more than half its business is done
after 3 pm, with afternoon tea and pre-dinner drinks the principal
component of that business. After 10 pm, however, business is
minimalan average of 6 transactions on a Monday, 7 on a
Tuesday and 3 on a Wednesday, which hardly justifies the cost
of keeping staff on late.
149. The Catering and Retail Service has proposed
making the Room a bar only, or reducing staff costs by opening
later and/or closing earlier than is currently the case.
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.
150. The Jubilee cafeteria, off Westminster Hall,
is provided primarily for visitors to the Estate, including tour
groups. It seems remarkable to us that one of the most famous
tourist attractions in the world could manage to run its visitor
cafeteria at a loss, but that is indeed the case at Westminster.
Again it is staff costs that primarily result in the need for
subsidy:, they, uncharacteristically come in below overall
sales, but once central costs of management, HR and finance, plus
sundry costs of supplies and so on are added to the account, the
cafeteria made a loss last year. To be fair to the Catering
and Retail Service, it is not entirely its fault that a tourist
cafeteria in a prime location is not turning a profit. Signage
directing visitors into the cafeteria from Westminster Hall is
less than prominent, tourists are unlikely to realise in the absence
of signage inside and outside the building that there is a cafeteria
at all, and the prospect of waiting in the lengthy queues that
often build up at Cromwell Green is hardly likely to encourage
casual use of the cafeteria. In addition, considerably more could
be done to sell souvenirs through the cafeteria, and the current
drab and uninspiring decor of what ought to be a spectacular room
needs urgent attention. 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
151. Since the closure of Bellamy's Bar in 1 Parliament
Street, the Strangers' Bar has been the primary 'public' bar available
to users of the Estate. Of other bars available, the Sports and
Social Club is run mainly as a bar for staff of both Houses, and
falls outside the Catering and Retail Service remit. The Smoking
Room bar is provided for Members only.
152. The Strangers' Bar promises to be profitable
following the price rises introduced last August, when prices
for drinks were aligned with those applied in a mid-market high
street pub chain. In 2009-10, the bar made an operating loss,
but only after central administrative and management costs were
taken into account; it would otherwise have turned a small profit.
It is one of the few outlets on the Estate in which revenues outweigh
staff costs, and it appears likely that it will in 2010-11 be
closer to or in profit. If so, despite the discontent that has
been recorded by many over the loss of Bellamy's Bar, which was
replaced by the House's new nursery, the House would have one
profitable bar instead of two loss makers.
153. Little change appears to be required in the
popular service offered by the bar. The principal issue that raises
concern is access to what is a fairly small space, and one which
can become extremely overcrowded, particularly on summer's evenings.
154. The access regulations for the Strangers' Bar
are worth quoting full as an example of the difficulty many staff
perceive in knowing where they may go and when. Access is allowed
Members of Parliament, Officers of the House of Commons,
Peers who were former Members of Parliament, SCS Members of Office
of Parliamentary Counsel, all with up to 3 guests. The Trade Union
Side Administrator and Staff News Editor may use the Strangers'
Bar with up to 2 guests when carrying out their official duties.
Staff of the House who are grade B1 or B2, former Members of Parliament
who have served a minimum of 10 years and retired Officers who
had served a minimum of 30 years may also use the Strangers' Bar
but may not take guests there. Staff of the House and Members'
staff are authorised to use the Bar on non-sitting Fridays and
during recesses, no guests.
There is no security officer at the door of the Strangers'
Bar to check who goes into it. Precisely how the bar staff are
supposed to judge which ex-MPs served for 10 years or which retired
officers served for 30 is unclear. There is no Editor of Staff
News, a publication abolished some years ago. Although staff at
grade B1 and B2 may use the bar, a blackboard above it informs
them that only Members and Officers may buy drinks. Clearly the
regulations require simplification.
155. Even before closure of the Bellamy's Bar in
1 Parliament Street the Strangers' Bar was frequently overcrowded
in the evenings, particularly in the summer months when the Terrace
is also heavily used. Since Bellamy's closed, pressure has grown
worse on a bar that is by no means large. Tempting as it is to
offer more open access, sheer practicality prevents any evening
extension, a position supported by the GMB, which represents the
156. We appreciate that the bar staff have difficulty
in enforcing the regulations on access in the bar, but we believe
that those regulations are increasingly more honoured in the breach
than the observance. There is a clear need for access to both
the bar and the Terrace to be more vigorously policed. 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
157. Since the purpose of the bar is to allow parliamentarians
to meet and talk, we are persuaded that access for Members of
the other House should be extended to all Peers, not just those
who used to be Members of this House: it is hard to see what business
purpose creates two classes of Members of the House of Lords.
We regret that the small size and overcrowding of the bar mean
that that extension of access has to be balanced by some restriction
for another group. The principle that access should be on the
basis of business need requires that that restriction apply to
those less senior House staff who, unlike Members' staff, have
previously been allowed access during Monday to Thursday, but
are, technically at least, not permitted to buy drinks. 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.
158. The Smoking Room provides a bar that Members
alone may use at present. Takings are small. The cost of staffing
the bar more than outweighs the revenue raised. Average
covers served in the room, which opens from 3 pm until after 10
pm on Monday to Wednesday, and earlier on Thursday, were, in October
to December, 2010, some 36 on Mondays, 42 on Tuesdays, 26 on Wednesdays
and only 5 on Thursdays.
It would be possible to operate the Room largely without permanent
staff: hot food or alcohol vending machines could be provided,
for example. 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.
159. The House's savings programme is scheduled to
reduce the administration estimate over the next four years. Few
of the specific proposals made for savings or income generation
by the Catering and Retail Service are scheduled to begin within
the next financial year, and we believe that this provides an
opportunity to test some of the options we have outlined above.
The service will be in a position to trial such proposals as:
introducing enhanced coffee bar services in, for example, the
Strangers' Bar and the Smoking Room; altering access arrangements;
and introducing self-cleaning systems more quickly than is presently
68 Ev 99 and 100 Back
Ev 94 and 100 Back
Catering Committee, Refreshment Services for The House of Commons,
First Report of Session1993-94, HC 75-I, para 6.1. Back
Ev 78 Back
Administration Committee, Refreshment Department Services,
para 68. Back
Ibid, para 73. Back
Q 293 (Ev 49) Back
Ev 97 Back
Ev 97, and Administration Committee, Refreshment Department
Services, para 39. Back
Ev 83 Back
See tables 9 to 14. Back
Ev 79 Back
Catering Committee, Refreshment Facilities in the House of
Commons, para. 28. Back
Ev 82 Back
Analysis of Catering and Retail Service figures provided by Jon
Ev 80 Back
Administration Committee, Refreshment Department Services,
Second Report of Session 2005-06, HC 733, para 66. Back
Ev 80 Back
Analysis of Catering and Retail Service figures provided by Jon
Q 112 (Ev 20) Back
Ev 80 Back
Analysis of Catering and Retail Service figures provided by Jon
See Ev w 9 Back
Ev 81 Back
Ev 82 Back
Ev 82 and Ev w 13 Back
Ev 81-82 Back
See Table 1. Back
Analysis of Catering and Retail Service figures provided by Jon
The others are the Strangers Bar, the Jubilee cafe and the Despatch
Box coffee shop. Back
Ev 81 Back
Ev 99 Back
Ev 84 Back
Ev w 16 Back
Ev 80 Back
House of Commons intranet, 7 February 2011. Back
Ev w 8-10 Back
Ev w 17 Back