HC Deb 22 December 1983 vol 51 cc369-70W
Mr. Chope

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if the review of major issues considered by the scrutiny of Civil Service catering has been completed; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Hayhoe

Following the report of the scrutiny team which examined Civil Service catering, the Government said on 1 February last that they intended to review the major issues raised by the report in relation to the future role of the Civil Service Catering Organisation (CISCO), the scope for using more outside contractors and the subsidy arrangements. This review has now been carried out.

The Government's conclusion is that the responsibility for the provision of catering for the Civil Service is primarily that for Departments, which must themselves meet the costs involved. CISCO will retain central control to enable consistency of standards to be achieved across the whole range of Civil Service catering facilities. In carrying out their responsibilities Departments will normally rely on CISCO to provide advice and guidance on all aspects of catering.

Catering services will be open to competition. CISCO will provide such services where Departments wish to use them, but Departments will also be able to use contractors from outside the Civil Service, as indeed happens in a few cases at present. It is the intention that contractors and CISCO should compete for departmental catering work on an equal footing.

Many Civil Service restaurants are currently run by departmental committees. As opportunity arises, Departments will be able to move to a more professional style of management, involving the use of CISCO or of outside contractors, as they may choose.

CISCO will continue to charge Departments for services rendered in respect of advice and, where appropriate, for the actual provision of catering services. Plant and equipment required in the provision of catering services will normally be provided by the Department, whether for the use of CISCO or of a private contractor, as will accommodation, light and heat and cleaning.

In the interests of encouraging efficiency and accountability, it is proposed that CISCO should be established as a trading fund under the Government Trading Funds Act 1973. The trading fund will be set an appropriate financial target reflecting its own costs and income, plus other suitable non-financial indicators of performance.

The scrutiny report criticised the present subsidy arrangements as over-complicated. A new and simpler basis is proposed. An annual global sum will be determined based on the current level of subsidy. CISCO will prepare a framework tariff calculated on the basis of the global sum which is available and that tariff will be related to specifications of quality and quantity. The organisation providing the catering (whether CISCO, a departmental committee or a private contractor) will, where necessary, be paid by the Department for providing such a tariff on the basis of fixed price quotations settled in advance each financial year. Departments will have discretion, subject to normal Treasury financial controls, to vary the standard of service or tariff so determined. Where an enhanced service is provided it will be necessary for the Department to meet any additional costs involved.

In the statement of 1 February the Government said that up to £1 million in total would be made available to carry out and evaluate an overall programme of pilot projects looking at alternative ways of providing catering within the Civil Service. This programme is under way, and the results of the projects will be evaluated when each has run its course.

The statement of 1 February said that the Government accepted that more money needed to be spent on improving the provision of meals to their employees. In view of the criticisms in the scrutiny report of substandard facilities in some areas of Government catering, the Government therefore propose to provide a further sum of £1.65 million per annum over the five years beginning in 1984–85 in support of a special programme for the enhancement of catering facilities in Departments. Taken with increased departmental flexibility, the Government believe that this will improve accessibility and lead to greater usage by civil servants of the facilities provided.