Food and Drink Subsidy

Oral Answers to Questions — House of Commons Commission – in the House of Commons at 9:30 am on 28th February 2013.

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Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Conservative, Pendle 9:30 am, 28th February 2013

What progress the Commission has made on reducing the subsidy on food and drink served in the House.

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Chair, Finance and Services Committee, Chair, Finance and Services Committee

The cost of the catering service is expected to have been reduced by £1.1 million over the past three years. It stood at £5.9 million in 2010-11 and £5.1 million in 2011-12. The forecast cost for the current financial year is £4.8 million. The current aim is to reduce the cost further so that by 2015 it should be reduced by £3 million, roughly half of what it was at the start of the Parliament.

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Conservative, Pendle

I welcome my hon. Friend’s answer, but recent media reports that the subsidy for Parliament’s 19 restaurants, nine bars and the coffee shop has actually increased over the past year were met with dismay from many of our constituents across the country. In addition to what he has said today about reducing the cost of the House catering facilities, I urge him to look at moving even faster on the issue to ensure that all subsidy is removed as soon as possible.

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Chair, Finance and Services Committee, Chair, Finance and Services Committee

We are certainly seeking to reduce the cost wherever possible, but there have been changes in the way we operate that make turnover more difficult. I point out that the key gross profit, or kitchen profit, made by the House’s outlets is fully comparable to what we would expect to find in industry. It is the other costs, caused largely by our sitting arrangements and the staffing required for that, that put us over into subsidy. That is the area currently being tackled by the business improvement plan.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Chair, Administration Committee, Chair, Administration Committee

Should we not always think of the 12,000 or more passholders beyond the number of Members of Parliament, most of whom are on lower salaries, and consider that it is perfectly in order to have an element of subsidy? Those passholders include journalists who work in the House. Therefore, in trying to be prudent about bringing down the cost of the catering service, we should bear in mind that in many places of work it is quite normal to have an element of subsidy.

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Chair, Finance and Services Committee, Chair, Finance and Services Committee

My right hon. Friend makes a valuable point. It is worth noting that the gross profit, or kitchen profit, made in the dining rooms is at the high end of the scale and extremely comparable to high street restaurants. The subsidy is needed far more in the canteens, which are enjoyed by passholders on far more modest salaries.