House of Commons Commission - Twenty-Third Annual Report


Department of the Serjeant at Arms Annual Report 2000-01

1. Introduction

The Serjeant at Arms Department sees its purpose as:

    "To provide the best possible service to Members and all those who work in or visit the House of Commons, on the authority of the Speaker and within the regulations of the House".

In addition to his ceremonial duties, the Serjeant at Arms, as Executive Officer of the House, is responsible to the Speaker for all accommodation, with associated services, and for security and access to the Palace of Westminster and the parliamentary outbuildings. Many of the services are managed on behalf of both Houses. The Department is structured into four Directorates: Serjeant's Operations, Estates, Works Services and Communications, each led by a Director. The Director of Serjeant's Operations is also the Deputy Serjeant at Arms.

During the review period, the Department has focused on five over-arching goals:

  • to maintain an appropriate level of security;

  • to improve facilities and services;

  • to develop information systems;

  • to improve PDVN services; and

  • to improve management of departmental resources.

Significant progress has been made in each of these areas by all sections of the Department and the House has been provided with major improvements in infrastructure, facilities and services.

Works projects and programmes have continued throughout the year to restore and maintain the estate, to continue the PDVN programme of installation, to refurbish Committee Rooms, to conserve energy in line with Government targets and to provide Parliament with a new building for Members in the 21st century.

A major feature this year has been the Braithwaite Review of the Governance and Control and Systems of the Department. The agreed recommendations from the report are being implemented in order to strengthen management and control, in line with the House of Commons' corporate strategy.

The year has been a demanding one: a major rationalisation of accommodation was begun to very good effect, the quality of IT and PDVN support across both Houses has both improved and stabilised and the Department has taken positive measures in order to implement the recommendations of the Braithwaite Review. This last issue has required a fundamental re-organisation of much of the Department and the process will continue into a further year. The contribution of the staff to all the undertakings of the Department has been excellent and the value of their teamwork has been proven.

2. Plans and achievements

TO MAINTAIN AN APPROPRIATE LEVEL OF SECURITY

2.1 SECURITY

The Department's objective has been to continue to bear down on security costs while maintaining a correct level of security staffing and cover.

The Serjeant at Arms, with his responsibility for the security of the House of Commons, has to perform a difficult balancing act. On the one hand, he has to ensure a safe environment for Members and staff and, on the other, he seeks to provide an environment where security arrangements are not so stringent that they impinge on the ability of Members and staff to perform their functions.

The requirement to provide appropriate security, offering value for money, is addressed at regular meetings attended by finance officers of both Houses, as well as by representatives of the Receiver to the Metropolitan Police. Additionally, regular scrutiny has been applied to issues like sickness, overtime and manning levels.

An important part of the security contract is that covering Fire Service staff. This has been reviewed and the facilities offered by private security firms have been evaluated and a number of options considered. On balance, a decision was taken that the Metropolitan Police should remain the Service Provider, on the grounds that it offers the most secure and efficient option. There have nevertheless been alterations to responsibilities, to free up the time of the fire officers to concentrate mainly on specialist tasks.

The fact that the Metropolitan Police are now subject to regular security meetings and challenges is a healthy development. Responsibilities are always changing with additional areas, such as Portcullis House, and updated security measures, such as CCTV and pass-controlled doors. It will nonetheless always be the case that the best security assets are trained staff who are alert, well briefed and imaginative. Such staff are an expensive asset and every effort continues to be made to deploy them to the best advantage.

TO IMPROVE FACILITIES AND SERVICES

2.2 PORTCULLIS HOUSE

An important objective this year was to complete Portcullis House, ready for occupation by Members and their staff. The brief had been to provide a long life, energy efficient building with accommodation for 210 Members and their staff, with Committee, conference and meeting room facilities on the first floor, and restaurant and general facilities around the glass-roofed courtyard on the ground floor.

Practical completion of the contracts was achieved on 18 August 2000 allowing the building to be handed over to the House Authorities. This was in line with the forecast that the building would be handed over on schedule, 30 months after the work started on site.

Detailed planning of the occupation programme started in the summer of 1999. The occupation team devised a comprehensive strategy to ensure that Members' expectations of their new accommodation would be met and that the moves would proceed smoothly. Full information about the building, locations, services, systems, the offices, and the environmental controls was incorporated into the 'Welcome to Portcullis House' guide supplied to every new occupant. The occupation programme started in mid-September and by mid-December 525 moves of Members and their staff had been completed. A customer feedback survey was carried out within two weeks of each move and the results indicated an overall 85% 'very good to good' level of satisfaction.

The House was honoured by the presence of Her Majesty The Queen who performed the Opening Ceremony in February 2001.


 
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© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 17 July 2001