Tuesday, 28 August 2012

4 Bercow's Bellamy's Blunder.


Three years ago when I was working in Parliament, during my gap year, with the help of the MP I worked for, I launched a petition to try and stop the conversion of the staff bar in Bellamy's into a creche. This was a pet project of the newly instated Speaker John Bercow and had been pushed through the House of Commons Commission without any consultation or any thought into the most cost effective way to execute Bercow's desires (he is after all one of the few users of the creche).

As you can read in the extracts from Hansard (below) the petition (which was signed by over 400 staff) was not just about having somewhere 'to drink' but actually about thinking and being pragmatic as to the best space for the creche. We even suggested a location that hadn't been recently refurbished. Here is the petition as presented to Parliament (click to make bigger).

 As you can see this was a perfectly reasonably request that the decision be reconsidered and staff be consulted. However Bercow ploughed on and the Nursery was built (for rather more then the £400,000 we estimated). But the worse thing about all of this is that recent FOI requests made in Jan-March this year, show the shocking waste of money this project has really been.

Firstly, the total costs of opening the nursery in September 2010 were  £557,322.53. Almost 150,000 more then origianlly estimated and this ignores the fact that the bar had been done up less then two years ago for £480,000. 

Despite this the nursery provides no value for money as there are currently 15 children attending it on a regular basis despite the fact it can cater for up to 40 children. These 15 children have six members of staff (probably the equivalent ratio to a five star hotel) and thus presuming a salary of 30k and including the loss of the original refurbishment, they are being looked after at £81,154 tax payer pounds each. In other words they're probably the most expensive babies in Britain!

With the Virgin trains petition reaching over 100,000 signatures Bercow's blind ambition to 'make his mark' is a great example of how the people should be listened to on certain matters, and how often some decisions deserve a second look. 

4 comments :

  1. Bellamy’s bar was closed not Bellamy’s restaurant – you know those highly subsidised things Guido's always banging on about? Surely, you’d be pleased. It was the usual haunt of mostly conservative researchers and staff – people like you Mr Horowitz.
    There are many assumptions, probablies, guesses and exaggerated/invented figures in your piece. £30k per crèche worker x6 yeah right! Newly qualified Nursery assistants in London earn as little as £9000 - £14000 per annum. Guy's NHS Trust are currently advertising for an experienced Nursery Assistant at £17000 nowhere near your 'imagined' figure.

    You implied that the views of 470 staff who signed the petition were paramount and this matter could be revisited – to what end? Perhaps spending another £500k plus to reinstate a bar when takings are down in all the others and there's over-capacity due in large part to 100% price rises since 2010? Parliament employs over 8000 staff so 470 staff (many of whom like you will no longer work in Parliament) represented barely 6% of staff.
    If you really wish to save taxpayers’ money then you might consider a campaign to restrict Private Members’ Bills only to those that have the written support of at least 100 MPs to stop Members e.g. Mr Christopher Chope wasting Parliamentary time with their personal vanity projects which never pass Second Reading but cost of tens of thousands of pounds to the taxpayer.
    Whilst on Private Members’ Bills you may also wish to campaign to stop maverick MPs e.g. Mr Christopher Chope filibustering, delaying Divisions and time-wasting (at the cost of tens of thousands of pounds to the tax-payer) to kill Private Members Bills that have strong cross-party support e.g. The Daylight Saving Bill 2012.

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    1. Never said matter should be ‘re-visited’ only that the decision should’ve been scrutinised more carefully in the first place.
      ‘filibustering, delaying Divisions and time-wasting’ could also be looked at but I am just pointing this out as an example of totally pointless waste that could’ve been avoided.
      I no longer work at Parliament as I am at University and worked there in my gap year for an MP who was willing to take on a student researcher. I admit 30k may have been miscalculated but the FOI request did reveal 6 staff--if we use a more realistic figure of 15k that is still around 75k per child--way more then it needs to be.
      Don't you agree that other options should've been looked at rather then converting a new renovated room (bar or not).

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  2. I agree that Bellamy's was a popular bar in a great location and given it's costly makeover less than 3 years earlier, required an extremely strong business case to be first (or only) option.

    Most of the other bars on the Estate were and are underused/over-staffed (more so since price hikes to 'reflect central London prices' leading to an accelerated loss of sales. Given the above why weren't they closed and converted? The main reason was their location either at the top/bottom of stairs and in the main (or oldest) part of the Estate. The practicalities of prams, pushchairs and toddlers sharing limited space and access through Star Chamber Court with staff/contractors let alone MPs during a Division ruled out much of the Estate and almost made Portcullis House or somewhere very close the only realistic option. Portcullis House/1 Parliament Street provide the best wheelchair/pram access on the whole Estate and the best bathroom changing facilities all key considerations.

    Other deciding factors that may have contributed include that the then Leader of the House Harriet Harman was no fan of the Westminster drinking culture and was determined to create a crèche 'at all costs' the symbolism of closing a 'tory bar' I'm sure was also not lost on her and the other key decision maker Speaker Bercow.

    Although the crèche is for use by MPs and Parliament staff there was a presumption (correctly as turned out) that the number of female MPs with young children/of child-bearing age would increase following an election. The Government wishing to appear as an exemplar to other public bodies and private companies wished to make the point that it's employees' child-care arrangements were catered for.

    One additional point you haven't made clear is that the crèche isn't free, (reducing further the amount of taxpayer subsidy you claim it receives)in fact it's rather expensive making it beyond the reach of all but the highest paid staff and possibly putting off some of the younger MPs who otherwise were expected to use it. That said, the subsidy for the last year figures are available were a more modest £2500 per child. (See below) and the intention is to break even next year.

    http://www.parliament.uk/site-information/foi/foi-responses/foi-disclosures-2012/foi-disclosures-january---march-2012/the-parliamentary-nursery/

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    1. Thank you for your interesting points. I also found it surprising that the FOI requests revealed that some parents had been told that they could not allowed to use the nursery at present. This included parents who are contractors on the Parliamentary Estate and those who work in the Press Gallery. Surely the creche could be more justified if it was full and if the demand isn't coming from MPs then maybe press etc should be allowed to use it. Also I didn't realise that it was expensive to keep a child there and you're right to point out that this would restrict the lower earning MPs.

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