House of Commons Commission - Twenty-fourth Annual Report

Twenty-fourth Annual Report 2001-02

Refreshment Department Annual Report 2001-02

1. Introduction

There is a potential daily market of over 12,000 customers for the services of the Refreshment Department. All persons holding security passes for access to the Parliamentary Estate (including Members and their staff, staff of the House of Commons, Members and staff of the House of Lords, civil servants, contractors' staff, the Press and others working in the House) have access to one or more catering service provided by the Department. These 12,000 passholders and, in some areas, their personal guests and members of the visiting public are all customers or potential customers of the House of Commons Refreshment Department.

The principal task of the House of Commons Refreshment Department is to provide catering services that meet the needs of Members, their staff, staff of the House and others working within the Parliamentary Estate. In providing these services, the Department is primarily concerned with supporting Members and their staff, and with supporting staff of the House and others who are themselves engaged in either supporting the House and its committees or supporting individual Members.

Through its banqueting services, and by providing facilities for Members and others to entertain their guests in the House of Commons, the Refreshment Department has a role to play in providing access to parliament for the public. This aspect of the Department's role will increase with the opening of the Jubilee Visitor Café in May 2002. Through its catering services, the Refreshment Department also provides support for the Press and other media organisations whose purpose is to provide information about the work and decisions of the House to the general public.

The Refreshment Department has a secondary, but nevertheless important, business activity in the retailing of souvenirs and parliamentary gifts. This provides both a valued service for Members and staff working in the House, and adds value to the "visitor experience" when members of the public visit the House, either through the Line of Route, or as an invited guest.

Whilst it is not the purpose of the Refreshment Department to maintain the heritage of the premises it occupies, this is an important responsibility for all staff working within the parliamentary estate. Accordingly, the Refreshment Department and all staff of the Department have a responsibility to carry out their business activities and duties in a way that is sensitive to the heritage of the building, its fabric, fixtures and fittings. They aim to treat all premises, equipment and documents with care and respect, seeking to preserve and protect these assets for the benefit of future generations.

The Refreshment Department operates a wide range of catering and retail services, supplying over 1 million meals each year. Catering facilities are located within the Palace of Westminster and in three other parliamentary buildings: Portcullis House, 1 Parliament Street and 7 Millbank.

The main parliamentary catering services operated by the Refreshment Department are:
6 self-service restaurants Members' Tearoom, Terrace Cafeteria, Press Cafeteria,
Bellamy's Cafeteria and Clubroom, Portcullis Cafeteria,
'the debate' in Portcullis House
6 table-service restaurants Members' Dining Room, Strangers' Dining Room,
the Churchill Room, and Press Dining Room in the Palace
of Westminster; the Millbank Room in 7 Millbank;
and 'the adjournment' brasserie in Portcullis House
1 seasonal restaurant the Terrace Pavilion summer buffet
1 coffee/snack bar 'the despatch box' in Portcullis House
8 bars Members' Smoking Room, Pugin Room, Strangers'
Bar,Terrace Pavilion Bar, Churchill Bar, Annie's Bar,
Press Bar, Bellamy's Bar

The Department also operates banqueting and private dining services on a commercial tariff. A Member of Parliament or other authorised officer must sponsor each function, and the profits from this activity contribute towards the cost of operating the other parliamentary catering services.
Merchandising activities are an important source of income to the House as well as providing a service to Members, and the Refreshment Department is responsible for the purchase and sale of House of Commons souvenirs through its shop, kiosks and restaurants.

2. Plans and Achievements



The net cost of operating the Refreshment Department is met from the House of Commons Administration Account. However, under the financial targets approved by the House of Commons Commission, this cost, "the subsidy", is limited to the cost of staff for parliamentary catering (i.e. excluding staff costs for banqueting and souvenir services) and capital expenditure for computer systems or other exceptional items. All other expenditure relating to the trading activities of the Refreshment Department, including banqueting and souvenir staff costs, is met from the Department's trading income. The Department is tasked with delivering an overall 5% surplus from its trading income.

Uncertainty about the precise timing of the general election had a severe effect on business activity levels during the first quarter, and for the remainder of the year demand continued to remain lower than forecast throughout all areas except the self-service restaurants. In common with other central London venues, demand for private dining and banqueting services remained low following the events of 11 September, and the market was only starting to show signs of recovery in spring 2002. Conversely, the new catering services in Portcullis House have proven immensely popular, both in terms of customer satisfaction and financial contribution.
Overall, more than 1.05 million meals were served through the parliamentary catering service in 2001- 02, an increase of 9% on last year. Banqueting turnover in 2001- 02 was £1.5 million from 67,000 covers, a reduction in income of £434,000 (23%) against last year, and souvenir income also fell by 6% to £560,000.
At year-end, the Department reported a net trading surplus of £192,000 (4.2%) against a budget of £200,000. After incorporation of the trading surplus into the Administration Account, the total cost of operating the Refreshment Department in 2000-01 was £5.5 million, against a budget of £5.7 million. This figure, "the subsidy", represents the net cost of operating the Refreshment Department after return of the contribution from the "trading surplus". Key trading performance indicators are set out in Annex 1.


The difficult trading conditions were recognised early in the year, and steps were successfully taken to make good this loss through a carefully focussed programme of management initiatives:

  • the introduction and active use of cost-centre based business plans and financial reporting;

  • financial awareness training for all junior and middle management, supervisory staff and senior chefs;

  • increased delegation of responsibility for financial performance to middle-management and key staff;

  • quarterly management team meetings to review performance and refocus business strategy; and

  • overhaul of purchase specifications and suppliers prices for key commodities, and review of internal control systems.

Staff costs were 5% below budget at year-end, largely as a consequence of the dissolution of parliament for the general election, and the continuing low levels of banqueting business. Effective management of staff costs is a key aspect of the Department's financial performance targets, and work continued throughout the year to improve the quality, timeliness and accuracy of information provided to line managers. It is hoped that the introduction of the House Administrative Information System (HAIS) early in 2002-03 will help this process.


The second trial opening of the Summer Line of Route attracted over 86,000 visitors during August and September 2001. Based on experience gained in the first year of operation, the range of souvenirs offered to the visiting public was significantly scaled down. A range of House of Commons and House of Lords souvenirs, guidebooks and printed matter was available for sale throughout the opening, with all proceeds being returned to offset some of the costs of the public opening. Visitor numbers were severely affected after 11 September, but despite this, the merchandising operations returned a modest net profit.



Apart from management development, training priorities focussed on the development and retention of key craft skills ­ a crucial requirement if the Department is to successfully attract and retain a pool of highly skilled catering staff. A policy decision was made to concentrate on delivering accredited training that enabled staff to achieve nationally recognised vocational qualifications. An internal pool of National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) assessors and internal verifiers was trained and in place by the summer, and the Department was registered as an approved NVQ Awarding Centre in August 2001.

Training priorities also continued to focus on the retention of Investors in People (IiP), in preparation for House-wide assessment. In the meantime, the Department also registered to commence two other kite-mark schemes: the Hotel and Catering International Management Association's (HCIMA) Hospitality Assured; and Excellence Through People, awarded by the British Hospitality Association.


In consultation with the Trade Union Side, management appointed a firm of external consultants to conduct a staff satisfaction survey within the Department. All staff were invited to participate, and the results will be used to establish a "base-line" for the future measurement of improvements in staff satisfaction levels. An action plan has been drafted and will be circulated to staff. In the meantime, staff turnover reports have been introduced on a quarterly basis, analysing leavers by work section, grade and reason for leaving. This will enable statistical analysis to identify trends in future.



Detailed plans for the provision of catering services during the dissolution of Parliament and the circulation of information to Members following the general election were implemented smoothly. Information was available for new Members in the reception area in the Upper Waiting Hall; details of the catering, banqueting and souvenir services available to Members, their spouses, guests and their staff were issued. A pamphlet was prepared summarising all the catering and souvenir services operated by the Refreshment Department, their opening times and access regulations; copies were sent to all Members, both new and returned, in the weeks following the election.

Following the events of 11 September, the staff of the Department reacted magnificently to open catering services for the emergency recall of Parliament on three days during September and October, receiving less than 12 hours notification on one occasion. Their efforts were widely appreciated by Members and management.


Following their opening in December 2000, the catering services in the new parliamentary building, Portcullis House, completed their first full year of trading. Customer satisfaction levels remain universally high for these new services, and have led to an overall 20% increase in demand for the Department's services in terms of the number of meals served. In January 2002, the Despatch Box coffee bar opened to complement the services already available in Portcullis House, and has rapidly established itself as a preferred venue for informal meetings for Members and staff. The food service concept for the catering services in Portcullis House is not only popular with customers, but is delivering higher financial contributions to the trading surplus than the more traditional catering venues elsewhere throughout the parliamentary estate.


Following the opening of Portcullis House, the accommodation in 7 Millbank was re-fitted for use largely for departments of the House. A review of catering provision was undertaken in consultation with the new occupants, and proposals drawn up for changed opening hours and access arrangements to be implemented in 2002-03. In the meantime, some re-decoration and furnishing renewals were completed in the self-service restaurant and brasserie, which have now been trading for almost ten years and seven years respectively.


The long-awaited Jubilee Visitor Café was constructed during the year and will open in May 2002 to provide light snacks, refreshments and lavatory facilities for visitors to the House. The Café complex includes an area where visitors may view interpretative material about Parliament and its work, and live feed from the Chambers of both Houses. A short video will be shown when the Houses are not sitting.


Towards the end of the year, the Catering Committee announced its intention to hold an inquiry into managing demand for refreshment services throughout the House. The purpose of the inquiry is to enable opening hours and access restrictions to be adjusted where necessary to enable the Department better to meet the needs of customers within the financial and accommodation resources available.



There were no major IT/IS installations or developments during the year, and so the focus for the Department was on utilising existing systems to maximum effect. New business systems coming into the hospitality market continue to be appraised for future application, and a rolling programme of replacement of existing systems in the Department is being prepared.


Much of the internal information systems within the Refreshment Department involve the dissemination of information to a large number of staff and customers, with widely varying information requirements, and, mostly, without access to computer technology. Great emphasis is therefore placed on the prompt, effective and consistent relay of important information and messages to staff, backed up where necessary with access to written copies of the communication. The staff satisfaction survey will highlight areas of concern, where information is not being conveyed promptly or consistently, and areas where feedback from staff is not being relayed back to senior management. This is likely to be a key area of focus in the forthcoming year

Sue Harrison

Trading Income & Expenditure 2001-02 2001-02 Variance to budget
Actual Budget %
Income (£000)
Food 2,864 3,058 ­6.3
Beverages 1,010 1,144 ­11.7
Souvenirs 560 625 ­10.4
Other 117 92 +27.2
Total 4,551 4,919 ­7.5
Cost of Sales (£000) 2,640 2,904 ­9.1
% Cost to Income 58% 59% +1.0
Gross Profit (£000) 1,911 2,015 ­5.2
% Gross Profit to Income 42% 41% +1.0
Staff Costs Banqueting & Souvenirs (£000) 750 814 +7.9
% Cost to Income 16% 17% +1.0
Other Expenses Admin & General (£000) 941 959 +1.9
% Cost to Income 21% 20% ­1.0
Net Trading Surplus (£000) 192 200 ­4.0
% Trading Surplus 4.2% 4.1% +0.1
Note: excludes subsidised costs (i.e. staff costs for parliamentary catering services, capital expenditure, and accommodation costs).
All figures subject to audit.


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