Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Trough Costs You £5.5 Million

According to The Sun the House of Commons Refreshment Department swallowed up £5.5 million of taxpayers' money last year. This represents 43 per cent of its operating costs.

On the face of it, this is odd to say the very least. A public scandal is another way of describing it. The dining rooms are in permanent use, even during recesses. The bars are open with no licencing restrictions. They have an almost captive audience.

One reason for the huge loss is that the bars and restaurants charge ludicrously low prices. It's about time this stopped and the Refreshment Department put its house in order. The trouble is, this department is overseen by a committee of MPs. You can just imagine them all voting to put up prices, can't you? They'd be lynched by their colleagues!

37 comments:

eldoc said...

Are you kidding, Iain? If it weren't for the subsidised restaurants and bars, there would be no way researchers earning a pittance working long hours and interns, many of whom don't get lunch expenses, could afford to work in Parliament.

It's not all about the MPs you know.

Anonymous said...

Ah! but when Fatty Soames goes, the bill will drop by two thirds!!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the committee could club together and buy themselves a spine.

tapestry said...

eldoc, so give interns vouchers.

Gallimaufry said...

British pigs don't receive a penny in subsidy so please don't compare them to MPs.

haddock said...

eldoc, perhaps you will explain why I should subsidise an 'intern' or a 'researcher'. These are just people queuing for their chance to get their faces into the political trough.
Many real workers take their lunch to work as they can not afford to eat out.

Auntie Flo' said...

Well done for highlighting this scandalous state of affairs, Iain.

Eldoc, take packed lunches as so many other workers have to do.

Or take up the matter of your pay with your MP/party masters who claim a huge amount in expenses to staff their offices.

No way should the taxpayer be forced to subsidise the privileged elite inside the political bubble.

Chris K said...

I don't think it's that unusual for large employers to have a subsidized staff canteen.

The main beneficiaries aren't MPs, or even researchers, they're clerks, cleaners and Police officers (it's always the Police making the most of the bacon butties in Portcullis House at 8am!)

Anonymous said...

The majority of people who use these canteens are recent graduates earning less than they would working else where or low paid staff. Do you really imagine are opting for the 65p soup every night?

David Boothroyd said...

The only time the HC Refreshment Department ever made a profit was in the late 1960s when Robert Maxwell was put in charge of it, and flogged off its assets while putting the proceeds in the balance sheet as if they were operating income.

simon said...

Alternatively, MPs could pay their researchers a bit more from their allowances, rather than diverting the money to their wives and children

Anonymous said...

Come off it Iain,

I am sure you have eaten and drunk there countless times without complaint. The bars open far ahorter hours than the rest of Westminster bars and the eateries are used far more by thousands of staff and visitors than Members.

Just because you won't be in the Members Yea room anytime soon there is no need to be so bitter

the_beekeeper said...

The drinks are not that cheap - beer went up 10p recently, I was shocked

Roger Thornhill said...

Thats not the trough, but just the nibbles handed out as you enter the door.

The gala performance occurs beyond the velvet curtain.

Clive B said...

That works out at £8.5k subsidy per MP!

Letters From A Tory said...

Subsidised food is totally unnecessary. Everyone else in Westminster, regardless of their salary (assuming they even have one), puts up with normal food prices. There is no justification for Parliament being an exception.

Anonymous said...

The drinks are not that cheap - beer went up 10p recently, I was shocked

Is that BY 10p or TO 10p?

Liz said...

When I was a recent graduate working for a pittance in the publishing industry, I *made sandwiches*. Still do, actually, even now I earn a proper wage, because it saves money and tastes better than something damp between two dry things from Tesco's chiller cabinet.

Kerron said...

I always thought that the refreshment facility subsidy was covered by the corporate charges for people holding receptions and other functions on the Terrace and in the Dining Rooms. That was certainly always the argument put forward to us - so if it is a £5.5m subsidy, I agree that is ludicrous.

However, I take issue with you saying "the dining rooms are in permanent use, even during recesses". You need to remember that it is not just MPs who work in Parliament but other staff too - thousands of them - who work right through recess.

And as you should know, refreshment facilities are actually quite scarce for staff during recesses - especially those on temporary passes.

For more info, read here:

http://kerroncross.blogspot.com/2008/03/mps-constituents-priority-service.html

Also I thought you would welcome the fact that some MPs want to stay in London and work through recess, especially if the insinuation is that they are all off jollying on holidays.

I presume that when you are in Parliament eating food and drinking coffee that you enjoy these subsidised passes, don't you Iain? Isn't this rather a false argument you are peddling?

BTW, at the moment I take packed lunches to work everyday, so I am not currently enjoying the subsidy - before anyone says anything.

Anonymous said...

I've always been disgusted that alcohol was served there anyway. No other place of employment would tolerate it and its especially disgusting given that these people are making laws to govern us after having had a skin full.
The whole of the HOC disgusts the nation. No wonder.

Alex said...

You think this just happens in Parliament. This is endemic throughout the public sector.

stuart said...

I used to work in the Commons and as a low-paid researcher it helped a lot, especially living in London.

An alternative would have been to pay me more but that would have put up allowances and then everyone would be complaining about that.

Democracy costs money.

Anonymous said...

The only time the HC Refreshment Department ever made a profit was in the late 1960s when Robert Maxwell was put in charge of it, and flogged off its assets while putting the proceeds in the balance sheet as if they were operating income.

Well said David Boothroyd.

Where is this fellow Maxwell?
Get 'im back in to make the place work properly again.
Sounds like a safe pair of hands.

The Lakelander said...

And here is a recent picture of the House of Commons Dining Facilities

Sick and Tired of Your Bitching said...

Oh here we go again. A 'subsidised' lunch still costs me a fiver a day. What you all don't get is that most of us don't GET an hour's lunch so we don't have time to go out and actually get ourselves something.

Plus, you can't just pin this one on MPs and their staff - there's the police, cleaners, House admin staff, journos, Clerks of the House, tour guides etc etc

Maybe if we were paid a proper wage we could afford 'unsubsidised' lunch but then you'd all bitch and moan that
our salaries are too high.

You know what? If you all think you can do it better, come and have a go - you'd quit here after the first week.

Dick the Prick said...

Don't they get £30 per day food allowance (recently dropped from £250) so aren't we paying them twice?!?! And, as mentioned, this only occurs in front of the velvet curtain - not that bothered about the plebs having subsidized canteen but how often do the great and the good eat with you scum? (No offence Iain - okay then - just a little bit). Think that's why it's called the stranger's bar - coz you ain't one of the chosen few! Just tweak it so we don't pay the troughers twice, three times etc - taking my accounting skills off Pete Hain - I've no idea any more.

Lord Elvis of Paisley said...

Sorry Iain, but I distinctly recall you on the Today programme recently defending MPs and saying there was no such thing as a trough. Or was I imagining it?

Anonymous said...

Shameless pigs eating and drinking on our taxes - should be stopped NOW

killemallletgodsortemout said...

@ sick and tired of your bitching 12.40

If you don't think you earn a "proper wage", and you don't get an hour's lunch, you need to seek counselling prior to taking these very serious matters up with your employer.

If you can't resolve the issues which are making you so unhappy then find another job and resign.




No, I didn't think so.

Sick and Tired of Your Bitching said...

To the Blogger with the long and silly name (1:28) - what would you know about service? We do this job to be of service and we have to take the rough with the smooth -however, we are tired of being attacked by the likes of you. MPs and their staff aren't the only ones who benefit from the subsidised meals go grow up.

Why don't you come and try to do the job if you think you're tough enough?

Anonymous said...

As an ex-intern, on a placement whilst at University, the subsidised food made a huge difference, as I was only paid travel expenses. Interns like me dealt with huge amounts of constituent mail, as well as research.

Researchers in Parliament are paid a lot less then others in equivalent jobs, and often have to work much longer hours. I loved working in Parliament, as I loved the opportunity to focus on certain issues, and see how politics really works, but I disagree that it's an easy option.

I wouldn't want to be an MP, regardless of subsidised food or expenses.

Anonymous said...

mp's and members of the house of lords are,i am sure, absolutely as one in deploring the indiscriminate sale of alcohol to those persons whose's human frailties can eventually lead to binge drinking and would wish to set an example to the country by insisting on sales of alcohol being stopped within the precincts of the houses of parliament.
they will also not wish to be thought as free loaders on the taxpayer and at the very least will wish to put their troughing facilities onto a proper commercial footing.

is that a bird is that a plane?
no and we all know the answer.

Anonymous said...

The food in Whitehall departments (and other public bodies for that matter) is better and cheaper, but you're not going to slag that off are you as it's not MPs enjoying the public subsidy. Why is it fine for civil servants?

Anonymous said...

Sick and Tired of Your Bitching said...

"We do this job to be of service"

So funny!

Sick and Tired of Your Bitiching said...

Anonymous 6:50am - As I have said so many times before - if you put such little value on the work that MPs and their staff do the next time you, your friends or your family have problems in getting hospital treatment or drugs for cancer, the right school for your child with special needs,care for your older relations, problems with tax credits or the Child Support Agency and the myriad other problems you bring to us both real and imagined - sort it out yourselves.

I am sick and tired of the hard work we all do being denigrated by the obsession with snouts in the trough. If you begrudge us a slightly cheaper lunch despite the fact that MPs' staff have absoultely no rights here - we have no human resources department, health and safety regulations do not apply to us, trade unions are not recognised, we do not get overtime despite working long hours - then stuff you. We do this to be of service - most of us would do far better in the private sector and for every Winterton there are hundred MPs and five hundred staff members who do the right thing. Stuff the lot of you!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but isn't the point of this story to do with subsidised ALCOHOL not food and the hypocrisy of MPs calling for higher prices in pubs and bars whilst retaining subsidised drinks themselves?

Or am I completely missing the point? Surely we're not defending cheap alcohol for cleaners, interns, police or MPs?

Sick and Tired of Your Bitching said...

Anonymous 8:29 - With all due respect you are missing the point - Iain does mention food. I would like to add that the catering facilities also serve the charities, constituents' groups, business groups who hold meetings, dinners and receptions in the House. Perhaps they should be paying the full price but certainly not us 'drones' who are the backbone of this place (and that includes the cleaners) May I also add that most of the restaurants are not open to the 'drones' anyway unless we are with an MP - fat chance. We are allowed within their hallowed walls on non-sitting Fridays and some Thursday evenings - but of course unless there is a special occasion WE can't afford them anyway.

To add insult to injury, they CLOSE one of the staff canteens during recess and half terms and the two remaining close early so after five (and yes some of us have to work the full day during recess)you are out of luck should you want a bite to eat or a coffee. Staff are as always, treated abominably.