13 October 2011

Thinking Paper #151 - Common(s) Bureaucracy

By Jacinta Burrow

Abstract

Hello again, post-bureaucracy fans! Apologies for my recent silence (the super-injunction’s all sorted now, thanks for asking), but I return with momentous news: the House of Commons Commission has done a new report responding to the new report by the Administration Committee on parliamentary catering arrangements (bureaucracy is alive and well and living in a palace by the River Thames). The IIPBA has skim-read it while waiting for the kettle to boil and has scribbled down the very bestest bits.
The Report’s Best Bits

Committee Recommendation 9 stated “The management of the service needs to respond more quickly and effectively to complaints about poor service” and suggested the introduction of a “‘mystery shopper’ programme”. Can the IIPBA suggest that Gordon Brown be inducted into this scheme? His scarce appearances in the Commons mean that no one will expect him to rock up and sample the new range of floured baps and his dour facial features will give nothing away about his scoring of the new facilities.

Committee Recommendation 15 was that “all Peers should be able to use the Members’ Dining Room at lunch times…” Quoth the Commission, “this may prove to be a contentious matter amongst Members… Discussions will be held with the House of Lords about this”. Now apart from that annual unpleasantness with Black Rod getting a door slammed in his face, is there really such beef between the Commons and Lords? If so, the IIPBA suggests the HoP slims down its £5.7m annual catering loss by selling tickets for some bare-knuckle brawling. Pete “the Dark Lord” Mandelson against Tom “Twiggy” Watson would be an especially spicy fixture.

“More can be done to vary the food styles on offer… There is a gap for the provision of mid-level, high street type offers such as pizza, pasta, Thai, Indian, Chinese or sushi…”, says Committee Recommendation 19. That’s right, folks. It’s 2011 and our elected representatives have just discovered it is possible to eat fish raw. If it wasn’t in the prep school tuck box, it just doesn’t get a look in.

At 27, the Committee recommends that a “self-clear” policy be extended to more Commons outlets. The Commission agrees, but “the clearing systems will need careful design”. Is it too much to expect that those who vote for new laws and send our troops into battle also know, when push comes to shove, how to position their knife and fork to indicate that they’ve finished and how to stack a tray? Yes. That’s why they employ a highly qualified, long-suffering staff.

The IIPBA’s favourite recommendation is number 33 in which our heroes on the Administration Committee suggest that “Moncrieff’s cafebar be renamed Annie’s Bar”. The Commission supports this, with a caveat: “it will be called simply ‘Annie’s’, to avoid it being seen primarily as a drinking establishment”. Have the Commission’s members never met a Member of Parliament? Were it not for g, and indeed t, nothing in Westminster would ever get done. (Please see Thinking Paper #3 for more IIPBA thoughts on the importance of alcohol to our politics, especially to the “new” kind).

Conclusion

The House of Commons Commission (membership 6, plus a Secretary and two Assistant Secretaries) was responding to recommendations from the House of Commons Administration Committee (membership 20, plus a Clerk, a Committee Assistant and a “Media Officer”). The Post-Bureaucratic Age is as far off as ever: ARE YOU LISTENING, LETWIN?

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