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September Sittings

Volume 451: debated on Monday 30 October 2006

To ask the hon. Member for North Devon, representing the House of Commons Commission, what estimate the Commission has made of the additional costs of the House sitting in September. (98396)

The works programme for each year is planned to fit with the expected parliamentary timetable. Over the past three years approximately £17 million has been spent in each summer recess on works projects across both Houses, of which approximately 60 per cent. (£10 million) has been in the Commons. The Commission has estimated the effect of a two-week sitting period in September 2006 on the basis that such sittings and the works programme were planned from the previous November.

If projects in the Palace and in those buildings housing Members stopped work for two weeks, an additional one/two week period would be required for project close down, making safe, then restarting. This means the overall impact on the works programme would equate to a total delay of up to three or four weeks out of the period over the summer recess from the end of July to mid October.

Assuming that the aim would be to complete most projects in the shorter recess, the overall additional cost of an early September two-week return might be in the order of 15 per cent. (an additional £2.5 million across both Houses or £1.5 million for the Commons) of the cost of recess works in a normal summer. The additional costs would arise primarily from the need to increase evening and weekend working to complete projects more quickly.

This figure for 2006 is substantially higher than the figure of £90,000 for additional works costs in 2003 and 2004 given in my written answer of 5 July 2006, Official Report, column 1083W, because it is impossible to determine with any accuracy what the actual costs of alternative contracts might have been. The £90,000 refers only to direct costs incurred in tidying up for the return including the dismantling of scaffolding and essential health and safety issues.

There are also substantial but unquantifiable long-term costs and risks involved in delaying some projects and not tackling the backlog of maintenance work required for the parliamentary estate. The Parliamentary Estates Board has expressed the view that the Palace structure and infrastructure will need a higher level of maintenance and refurbishment over the next few years to halt further deterioration in its condition. Key elements are the needs for a major overhaul of the cast iron roofs, renewal of much of the internal infrastructure of pipes and cabling, fire compartmentation and automatic fire detection systems, and further stone restoration. It is unlikely that this can be completed effectively if all the work is confined to recesses, whether or not there are September sittings.

It is not possible meaningfully to identify other additional costs arising from September sittings because major costs including accommodation and staffing continue throughout the year irrespective of whether or not the House is sitting. The overall daily resource cost of running the House administration in 2005-06 was £560,000.

The cost of the two-day emergency recall in September 1998 was estimated at the time to have cost about £375,000 in works costs. There were other staff costs, mainly for security and some overtime, amounting to £33,200—22 October 1998, Official Report, column 1189.