Catering and Retail Services seek to provide an appropriate level of service to support an active and busy parliamentary chamber, and to provide excellent value to the taxpayer. The catering subsidy has been reduced by 32% since 2007 and we are working hard to reduce it further through an ambitious Change Programme.
The unpredictable nature of parliamentary business – in terms of sitting days, recesses, the length of each sitting, and the level of attendance at the House for each sitting – means that staffing costs and wastage are higher than would be the case in purely commercial catering outlets. This makes an operating loss extremely difficult to avoid.
Furthermore, catering facilities are used by a wide range of people, not just Members. Venues such as the River Restaurant and Millbank House cafeteria are mainly intended to provide facilities for staff and other users such as the Metropolitan Police, contractors and others working on the Parliamentary Estate. It is good practice for large employers to provide cafeteria facilities for staff, particularly for organisations that operate outside normal office hours as is the case in the House of Lords. We pay all catering staff at least the London Living Wage and provide them with workplace pensions. We are proud to do so but it means our costs are higher than some commercial restaurants.
Given these factors, some element of tax-payer funding is appropriate, but the Administration is vigilant to ensure that public money is stewarded responsibly. Catering and Retail Services are also exploring novel ways to generate income in quieter times, such as opening the Peers’ Dining Room to the public in longer recesses. This helps to reduce the overall cost of the refreshment service to the tax payer, and so the subsidy.