House of Commons Commission - Twenty-Third Annual Report

Department of the Serjeant at Arms Annual Report 2000-01 (continued)


The objective has been to conduct the opening of the Line of Route to the public on an experimental basis to the satisfaction of the House.

The Line of Route tours during Summer 2000 were a considerable success in terms of value for money and the quality of both the tours themselves and of the guides. A survey conducted by the University of Greenwich found that 95% of respondents rated the tour as 'very good'. The two Houses have agreed to extend the trial summer opening of the Line of Route for a further year during the Summer Recess 2001. The project is being managed within a framework of three criteria:

  • the Palace of Westminster is primarily a place of work, and public access to it must not impinge upon that work;

  • visiting arrangements during the recess must not constrain either the Parliamentary works programme or the ability of either House to sit at any time it may be necessary to do so; and

  • current rights of Members of both Houses and of the Parliamentary Education Unit must be maintained.

The budget remains at £232,000 and the lessons learned from the 2000 project are being translated into action. There will be no increase in the price of £3.50 to cover the ticketing charge as well as the services of a guide.


The Department has been heavily involved in planning and making preparations for a General Election, both on a House-wide basis and within the Directorates. Lessons learned from the 1997 election have been reviewed and applied to current planning and organisational models from the Portcullis House occupation programme have been refined for managing the post-Election moves of Members and their staff. A detailed Departmental plan has been prepared for the pre-Dissolution, Dissolution and post-Polling Day periods.


The Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB) has recommended the central provision and maintenance of a standard package of computer equipment for Members.[12] PCD has worked closely with the Information Committee of the House and with the Department of Finance and Administration on scoping and costing the requirement for central provision. Plans for procurement, delivery and support of a portfolio of standard equipment have been prepared should Parliament decide to approve the SSRB recommendations.



During 2000-01, work was undertaken to extend the Parliamentary Administrative Database (PAD). PAD is used to support many functions of the Department, including the allocation of offices and telephones to Members and staff, the administration of office moves (used to great effect during the occupation of Portcullis House), and the booking of Committee and meeting rooms. PAD was extended to include the following: electronic signage; the integrated booking of rooms and refreshments in Portcullis House; and a system to support mail services for both Houses of Parliament.


Having previously piloted electronic signage in Central Lobby, it was planned to develop a system for Portcullis House to show which Committee and meeting rooms were occupied when and by whom. The system was developed in time for the occupation of Portcullis House in September. Room booking information recorded on PAD is passed to the signage system every 3 minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, providing a continuous update of information for the displays. Electronic signs outside the Committee rooms show information about the occupation of each particular room, including a thirty-minute countdown to the next meeting. Recent changes to booking information are highlighted to alert attendees to, for example, a change of venue for a meeting.


Following the decision to provide refreshments in meeting and function rooms in Portcullis House, changes were made to PAD's room booking functions to include refreshment booking. This work was undertaken in close liaison with representatives of the Refreshment Department and to a tight timescale. The new booking system was completed and tested by late October, ready for the provision of refreshments from early December. It enables Serjeant at Arms Attendant staff to provide a 'one stop shop' for room and refreshment booking. Following a trial period of use it is planned to extend the functionality of the system further to include, among other features, electronic notifications of bookings made.


Among other requirements, a new mail database system was needed to enable the mail contractor to provide delivery and collection services to Portcullis House. The new system was developed as an extension of PAD so it would use the Member and office location data already recorded on PAD. This ensured that the mail system would be automatically updated - in real time - when there were Member office moves or other changes to Member details. The new mail system also provides extensive extra functionality, which has, among other improvements, reduced the time taken to respond to Members' redirection changes and for each mail delivery to be sorted prior to onward internal delivery to Members and their staff.


Archibus, which is an abbreviation for 'Architect in Business', is a facilities management software system designed to manage and present estates and buildings information in a graphical and textual manner. All the estate drawings are dynamically linked to the individual spaces that comprise the Parliamentary estate. The drawings also hold engineering services data such as gas, water, steam, electrical distribution points, sewage and main data/video cabling runs. The furniture and equipment module holds details of all plant/equipment assets as well as historic furniture items and, eventually, works of art. All assets are in the process of being bar-coded as a basis for audit checks and for planned maintenance purposes.

'Buildings Operations and Maintenance' is the most extensively used module with the recent introduction of the Archibus Works Help Desk. Between 100 and 150 reactive cases are logged daily and the module also handles around 100 planned maintenance and other routine tasks on a weekly basis. A particular feature has been the introduction of the Intranet for the purposes of logging and tracking cases. It is the first interactive Intranet application of its kind to be introduced onto the Parliamentary network.



Following the successful infrastructure upgrade in the previous year, users have experienced a far more reliable and predictable level of network service during 2000-01. The introduction of third party out-of-hours network management, combined with PCD's internal resources, provided the basis for enhanced monitoring of essential network equipment. Given the improved performance of the underlying network infrastructure, PCD was able to give greater attention to the enhancement of higher-level network services. Projects successfully accomplished include a significant upgrade to the network firewall equipment, the upgrade of virtual private network (VPN) equipment and considerable progress towards removing legacy network protocols such as IPX. Testing and full implementation of fallback routing software on the network switches - a quality of service component all the more essential given the significant extension of the network into Portcullis House in the summer - was also achieved within this busy period. During the review year there were 17 network incidents with a total unplanned downtime of 19.25 hours, compared with 72 hours in the previous year.


Following discussions with the Internet service provider agreement was reached to provide an interim upgrade to the bandwidth of the connection between PDVN and the Internet. Originally planned for January 2001, technical and supplier difficulties delayed delivery until April. During the year, plans were also developed to acquire fully managed, flexible bandwidth with guaranteed quality of service. These are currently awaiting formal ratification.


Improving the effectiveness of the remote connection to the PDVN has been a high priority. The implementation programme involved the development and distribution of auto-installing software to users on the estate and in constituency offices, as well as the enhancement of supporting PDVN systems. The lack of standardisation of Members' computers added to the complexity of both development and user-support activities. While this meant that original targets proved over-ambitious, the project was nonetheless largely completed within the period, with approximately 1,200 of 1,300 user accounts successfully converted to the improved software. Overall, users will see faster, less complex and more reliable remote access. Further system enhancements are also planned.



The Braithwaite Report (June 1999) recommended a further review of the role and structure of the Parliamentary Works Directorate and its relationship with the other operations of the Serjeant at Arms' Department. This review, now covering the whole Department, was conducted between February and July 2000 as a high priority objective within the Department's annual plan. The review's recommendations were presented to and accepted by a steering Group chaired by the Clerk of the House in July 2000.

Implementation of the recommendations began in September 2000. Good progress is being made towards the target of achieving the completion of this phase of the reorganisation of the Department by 31 October 2001. The role of the Serjeant at Arms as budget holder for the House of Commons' share of the Works and PCD budgets has been strengthened and clarified. A new Departmental Head of Finance post has been created and recruited to assist the Serjeant at Arms to fulfil his new responsibilities. The Parliamentary Works Directorate has been separated into purchaser and provider functions, leading to the establishment of the Parliamentary Estates and Parliamentary Works Services Directorates.

Working closely with the Department of Finance and Administration, a new structure has been developed to allow the support functions of finance and human resources to be delivered to the Department in a co-ordinated manner.

A 'Monthly Management Report' has been introduced to provide the Serjeant at Arms with better information on performance in key areas so that he can exercise firmer control over the Department. Variances and areas requiring action are highlighted, using a traffic light system.

Initially, this monthly report is being produced from management information currently available in the Department. Further work is in train to identify the systems that are required to support the new structure of the Department.


Formal appraisal for DEL and SAA cleaners

Last year the Serjeant at Arms' Department gained Investor in People accreditation. One of the recommendations associated with the accreditation process was the adoption of Annual Appraisal Systems to meet the needs of the Directly Employed Labour of the Parliamentary Works Directorate, and of the cleaning staff employed in the House of Commons. Schemes have now been set up and have been in place for a year covering the DEL and SOD cleaning staff. Performance Review Forms have been designed and adopted to meet their requirements and the systems are monitored and operated by supervisory staff from the respective directorates. Their adoption followed union consultation. The appraisal systems appear to have been well received by staff and managers. They will continue in use, subject to refinement and improvement, and provide a useful element in the management of important sections of the Department's service infrastructure.

To design a new Management Development Programme

During the year work progressed on the refinement of core management competencies that would form the basis of modular management development training within the Department. In March, the Department's Senior Management Group approved expenditure for two pilot courses that would focus on two competencies, Leadership Skills and Team-working Skills. Proposals from three training providers were sought and one has been selected to carry out the pilots. Course participants have been selected and briefed. The initial two courses will be complete by early July when progress will be reviewed with the objective of rolling out the full competency based modular Management Development Programme to A2/B1 managers during financial year 2001-02 and beyond.

To devise and agree an internal communications strategy

The Senior Management Group has approved the Department's internal communications strategy, which has been designed to support achievement of the objectives within the Departmental Business Plan. The key features are:

  • to link communication to business objectives;

  • to recognise the key role of line managers;

  • to ensure relevant communication skills are included in the Training Plan;

  • to use a simple communication planning model:

      - define clearly what is to be communicated

      - identify all stakeholders within the target audience for the communication

      - specify what the communication is intended to achieve

      - select/design an appropriate communication process and style

  • to ensure feedback channels are in place;

  • to measure progress in improving internal communication; and

  • to aim to ensure a consistent and coherent view from the SMG.

The strategy is now being implemented, particularly in relation to the implementation of the Braithwaite recommendations.

Michael Cummins

12   Review Body on Senior Salaries, Report No. 48, Review of parliamentary pay and allowances, Volume 1: Report, Cm 4997-I. Back

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Prepared 17 July 2001