The summer recess is an opportunity to undertake repairs and refurbishment in the Palace. Over the summer, there has been a substantial workforce in to undertake about twenty different projects. These have included essential repairs and maintenance as well as the beginning of what appears to be a rolling programme of roof replacement. Various corridors have been closed off and parts of the Palace look like a building site. It requires some dexterity at times to negotiate one’s way round.
At the same, the Palace remains a working parliamentary environment. Various select committees have met: as I mentioned in an earlier post, more so this year than ever before. MPs’ offices have continued to be staffed. It has been necessary to maintain the facilities necessary to enable this work to go on. Various refreshment outlets remain open, albeit on a reduced scale (the assumption appears to be that no one wants to eat a meal in the Palace beyond mid-afternoon). One outlet normally open during the summer – the Terrace Cafeteria in the Commons – has been closed for refurbishment, putting some pressure on other outlets. The Atrium in Portcullis House gets packed around lunchtime as members and staff use the Despatch Box (the snack bar), Debate (the self-service restaurant) or the Adjournment (Members’ restaurant). One relatively new outlet – Moncrieff’s cafe bar, housed way up in the press building – has been touting for business, with large notice boards close to the entrance to the press section announcing its existence and what it has to offer. As a result, I did sample its tea, not least because it stays open until 5.30 – the Despatch Box in Portcullis closes at 5.00.
The Palace during the summer is thus busy, with two major working environments essentially having to co-exist. At the same time, there are the tours of the Palace as thousands of people come to look round. The visitors see the principal parts of the Palace in their full glory, unaware that behind some doors lie stacks of chairs or bare floors. It is quite a major logistical exercise. This week is the crunch period, as the various works are completed in readiness for both Houses sitting next week. Furniture is now starting to be returned to its usual place, tarpaulins taken down, and padding removed from the lifts. That is, assuming I haven’t misunderstood why the lifts are now padded.