Managing an Internship in Your Office

For information on short-term work experience placements for school pupils or college students, please see our page on ‘Organising Work Experience in an MP’s Office

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has developed a Charter, which offers a Code of Practice on good management practice in order to make an internship as successful as possible.   W4MP supports this code of practice recommends it to all those involved in offering and taking part in internships.

If you are looking at this page because you are considering submitting an advertisement for an internship on W4MP, you may wish to revise the wording of your proposed advertisement to reflect this advice, before proceeding to submit it.

The CIPD is the UK’s leading professional body involved in the management and development of people.  Even though organisations benefit from internships, their prime purpose is to provide interns with meaningful work experience that enhances their employability and skills.  Ideally, an Intern should be paid a salary reflecting the contribution they make to the organisation, and at least receive the National Minimum Wage (or London Living Wage, where applicable).  However, the quality of the experience for the Intern is the most important factor.

The CIPD recommends that organisations offering internships should adhere to a voluntary code of practice, which is laid out in the following sections, indicated by the text in bold and italics.


Introduction

Congratulations, you got a job – you are now a Parliamentary Researcher (or some other equally-misleading job title), probably responsible for everything from making tea and opening post to writing speeches and shaping policy.  Brilliant!  I hope you’re feeling suitably pleased with yourself.  And, what’s more, you now appear to be diligently reading the guides on w4mp to make sure you’re as good as you can be at your job.  What a star!  (Either that or you were reading the funny cartoon strips and stumbled across this by accident…)

So, you arrive on your first day, open the post, change the voicemail recording (after a few attempts) to you enthusiastically suggesting people call the constituency office, and your MP has been packed off to the first of a series of meetings.  You’re about to tackle your inbox, starting to feel like you might actually know what you’re doing, when there’s a coughing noise in the corner of the room.  There in the corner, nervously trying to check Facebook with their screen turned so that they think you can’t see it, is an Intern.

Argh! As if managing yourself and your MP isn’t quite enough, there’s someone else.  Someone that relies entirely upon you to tell them what to do, and how to do it.

However, judging by the amount of applications that come in for parliamentary internships, chances are this person is pretty good.  Internships should be, and can easily be, mutually beneficial.  They want to learn about the job, get some experience and enjoy being in Westminster.  You’d like some help around the office, and someone to rant with when your boss is running two hours late or you spill your paper cup of porridge from the Debate caff all over your keyboard.  (Believe me, that stuff is like glue.)

Firstly, take a minute to consider whether you’re actually able to take an Intern on.  Do you have enough desk space?  Do you have a computer available for them to use?  Is there enough interesting work for them to do?   Can you commit to being able to have them in the office for a reasonable length of time?  Do you have the funds to pay them?

If the answer to all of these questions is yes, then you’ll need to talk to your MP about how it’s going to work.  Once they’ve agreed that your idea was brilliant, and you should definitely get an Intern, then it’s time to talk about all the technical stuff like pay.

It is always a good idea to talk to other MPs’ staff too, to hear about their experiences and handy hints.

Important: Do you have a computer which people on work experience or internships can use?

Be aware, that if your office has only computers supplied by PDS (formerly PICT), whether they be loaned or purchased, there is no longer a facility for a ‘guest, ‘local’ or ‘admin’ login, so people who do not have both security clearance and a network account will not be able to access those computers at all.  As most of the work in an MP’s office involves using a computer, this restriction will affect the type of task you are able to give to the student/volunteer/Intern, and may be a deciding factor in whether or not you can offer a work experience placement at all, particularly if it is just for one or two weeks.  For students on a longer work placement, e.g. a few months, you can apply for security clearance and a network account through the normal channels; they do not need to be formally employed to apply for these.

Recruitment

“Interns should be recruited in broadly the same way as regular employees of an organisation, with proper consideration given to how their skills and qualifications fit with the tasks they will be expected to fulfil.  Recruitment should be conducted in an open and rigorous way to enable fair and equal access to available internships.  The job advertisement should give a clear indication of how long the internship will last, and at interview, the Intern should be told honestly whether there is a real chance of obtaining a full-time contract.”

 

Now you need to advertise and, as chance might have it, you’re in the right place.  Take a look at some of the existing adverts on W4MP, and it shouldn’t be too hard to write something along similar lines.  Just make sure you are really clear about the important things like where the internship is based, and what expenses are covered.

It’s important to advertise nationally, and as widely as possible.  As well as W4MP, you might want to look at third sector jobs boards or advertise locally in your constituency.

Assuming you’ve got your morally, ethically and legally sound advert up, the applications should come flooding in and you can enjoy the power-trip of picking over people’s CVs and pretending to be Alan Sugar.

One word of caution though – to save your applicants sweating over the refresh button of their inbox, try to acknowledge receipt of all applications and let them know roughly when they’ll hear back from you.  There’s really no excuse for just never getting back to applicants; if they didn’t get it, they’d rather just know.

Induction

“Interns should receive a proper induction to the organisation they enter to allow them to fully integrate.  Whether joining a large organisation, or an SME, an Intern just entering the job market may find the workplace intimidating.  It is important to introduce an Intern to the staff and the values of the organisation to help them integrate into the team, and allow them to hit the ground running.”

Make sure your shiny new Intern is clear about the kinds of things they might be doing, the hours you’d like them to work (although, again, this must be flexible if you aren’t paying) and the expenses/pay they’ll get.

It might be useful to have a short guide to post out to them before they start explaining a bit about how the office runs, what they might be doing, and a quick introduction to life in Parliament and your constituency.  It sounds like a lot of work, but it will save you time in the long run when you realise on week three that they’ve been telling everyone on the phone that your constituency is Barnsley, not Burnley, or when they run out of the building screaming the first time the division bell rings.

If you have a current Intern, this can be an interesting task for them to do; to write a guide of everything they wished they knew before starting!

Most importantly, get their pass application in ASAP! The sooner it’s in the better, and usually the applications are processed in 5 working days.  You are not allowed to bring them in as visitors and escort them around if they are coming to work, and it is a serious breach of security to do so.  No matter what you’ve read in their CV or whether you know them personally, without the full background and Counter Terrorism Check you could be unwittingly letting someone with nefarious intentions into Parliament.

Supervision

“Organisations should ensure there is a dedicated person(s) who has ring-fenced time in their work schedule to supervise the Intern and conduct regular performance reviews.  This person should provide ongoing feedback to the Intern, be their advocate and mentor during the period of internship, and conduct a formal performance review to evaluate the success of their time with the organisation.”

If you can arrange their first day to be one when your MP isn’t in, that makes things a lot easier.  Then you can show them around when your workload is a little lighter, and they can feel a little bit more like they know what they’re doing before the big boss is watching.

Things to do on the first day:

Tour.  Try to book them on an official Your ‘fact’ about Michael Jackson trying to buy the throne in the House of Lords might be funny, but probably not that much use when they suddenly have to show your MP’s nephew around the palace and all the tours are fully booked.

Show them around the building.  It sounds silly, but if you don’t tell them where the loo is, you might find you have a very shy Intern in inexplicable agony.  Make sure they know where they can get food, where the kitchen is, the Post Office, Vote Office, cash points, Travel Office, Whips’ Office, Members’ Centre, and anywhere else you go on a regular basis, including the Sports and Social Club.

Introduce them to people.  Make sure your Intern gets to meet lots of other new Interns.  Perhaps you can arrange to go for lunch with a few other researchers and their interns, or go to the Sports and Social Club for their first taste of parliamentary gin.

It’s also a good idea to introduce them to someone outside of the office that your Intern can talk to if they have a problem.  There should always be someone other than you and your MP that they can talk to should they be unhappy with any aspect of their internship.

This would also seem a logical point to let your Intern know about their right to union representation.  Unite has an active Parliamentary Staff Branch which represents staff both in Westminster and in the constituencies.

Give them some work to do.  The best way to learn is generally by doing, so there’s no reason why they can’t get to work fairly quickly.  Just make sure that you’re always there to answer lots of questions for them, and be patient.

Members Staff Register.  All Interns who are issued with a pass valid for more than three months are obliged to sign the Register Of Interests Of Members’ Secretaries And Research Assistants.  Remind them that if they receive a bursary or any other financial or material benefit, they may need to record it in the Members’ Staff Register, subject to the relevant thresholds.  The Member would also need to record any bursary in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.  The staff of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards are very approachable and helpful, so don’t hesitate to give them a call if you’re not sure of anything.

So you made it through the first day without them thinking that you’re entirely incompetent and trying to perform a coup in the office.  Congratulations.

From herein it’s really not that hard.  Just talk to your Intern a LOT.  Make sure you always know what work they’re doing, how it’s going and if it’s too hard or too easy.  The worst thing would be to get to the end of the first week and find that they misunderstood something right at the start and all their work needs re-doing.

Treatment

“During their time with an organisation interns should be treated with exactly the same degree of professionalism and duty of care as regular employees.  They should not be seen as ‘visitors’ to the organisation, or automatically assigned routine tasks that do not make use of their skills.  Organisations should make some allowance for interns to, on occasion, attend job interviews or complete study requirements.”

Having an Intern can be brilliant.  To make sure that you get the most out of it, talk to them before they arrive about what they’re particularly good at and what they enjoy.  Maybe they love web design and would be great at starting up your website.  Or perhaps they love working with kids and would be brilliant at giving some school tours.  Whatever it is, find that talent, and make the most of it.  That way you’ll get something valuable, and they will enjoy their experience a whole lot more.

As well as the obvious pleasure your Intern will have in working with you, Parliament itself is a pretty great place to work, and you should make sure your Intern has time to enjoy it.  Here’s my quick checklist for things they should be able to do while they’re here:

  • Go on a parliamentary tour.
  • Sit in PMQs.
  • Sit in the Gallery for other interesting debates.
  • Sit in the House of Lords Gallery.
  • Write and table an EDM.
  • Write and table a Parliamentary Question.
  • Sit in a Select Committee meeting.
  • Accompany your MP over to Millbank studios.
  • Sit on the terrace and feel a bit smug as the tour boats go past.
  • Go along to a few receptions with free wine/canapés.

These are only a few suggestions.  Some might not be possible in your office, but you get the picture.  It helps to have a physical checklist of things your Intern wants to do before they leave, to make sure that you don’t reach the last week and have to try to cram everything in all at once.

Payment and Duration

“As a bare minimum the organisation should cover any necessary work-related expenses incurred by the Intern.  This includes travel to and from work, and any travel costs incurred whilst attending external meetings/events.  If an internship is unpaid and provides only expenses, then the internship should be no longer than four months.”

It is essential at this point to do the serious bit, and consult National Minimum Wage legislation.  This legislation exists to protect people from working for insufficient wages or for free.  It’s really important, not only from a moral point of view, but also because if you break it you, or your MP, could end up in court.  However, don’t worry; it’s pretty easy to understand.  If the opportunity you’re advertising fits the criteria, you must pay at least minimum wage.  If not, you don’t.  Simple.  Have a look at these:

You also need to make sure you remember what you’re advertising for!  An Intern is not a member of staff, not a skivvy, not a diary manager or professional tea-maker.  An unpaid internship must, by law, not have set hours or roles.  So if you’re not going to pay them, your Intern needs to know that they can come and go at different hours to you should they need to, and you can’t rely on them to run the office.  You may reimburse reasonable basic travel and subsistence expenditure for your registered volunteers.  You should ask your Intern to keep all of the receipts for lunch and travel, so that you can submit them to IPSA.  This expenditure will come out of your Staffing Allowance.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) is responsible for payment of expenses to MPs and their staff.  Look at its website to learn more about what it does.

If you’re paying your Intern, you’ll need to provide them with a proper contract of employment.  If you’re not able to pay your Intern, it’s still important to make sure they know what to expect from the internship, and what you can get in return.  See the info below about IPSA and their Model Volunteer Intern Agreement.

It is important that you read page three of their guidance note.  There is a distinction between ‘Employed Interns’ and ‘Volunteer Interns’ and, if you are paying your Intern less than National Minimum Wage, you should read their Model Volunteer Intern Agreement.  You might also find it helpful to put ‘Intern’ into the search facility on the IPSA website; there are a number of other useful references.

Certification/Reference and Feedback

On completion of their internship organisations should provide interns with a certificate/reference letter detailing the work they have undertaken, the skills and experience acquired, and the content of the formal performance review conducted at the end of the internship.  Interns should also be offered the opportunity to give feedback on their experience in an ‘exit interview’, giving organisations the opportunity to reflect on its own performance in delivering internships.

So, your Intern is leaving.  By now, you’re probably inseparable, and you’re sure you saw the shine of a tear in your MP’s eye as they set off for the constituency after saying that last goodbye.  Or perhaps it’s all been a bit more professional and stiff-upper-lip than that.  But however it went, it’s important to end an internship with as much thought as it began.  Your Intern needs a proper evaluation of how the internship went, either through a meeting with you or with your MP, so that they can come away with some positive feedback and areas for development.  You might also be able to help them if they’re job-hunting in Parliament, or by providing references.

So by now you are an expert manager, your CV is gold-plated, and you just made an Intern pretty happy.  You probably have just enough time to give yourself a quick pat on the back before starting to sift through that next pile of CVs…

The Internocracy website: www.internocracy.org

From the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) ‘Internships that work – a guide for employers‘: http://www.cipd.co.uk/hr-resources/guides/internships-employers-guide.aspxFor information on short-term work experience placements for school pupils or college students, please see our page on ‘Organising Work Experience in an MP’s Office

 

MPs and Freedom of Information

Your MP may be contacted by constituents (or others) making official requests for information.

These requests will usually fall into two categories: requests for copies of information held about themselves, under the Data Protection Act, or requests for other information under the Freedom of Information Act.

Data Protection requests

The three key obligations of the Data Protection Act are:

  • Registering with the Information Commissioner’s Office
  • Abiding by the data protection principles
  • Allowing people to exercise their rights.

Useful information on data protection and how to register can be found on the intranet here: https://intranet.parliament.uk/information-management/data-protection-security/data-protection/gdpr-for-commons-members/

There is also a very useful Library Briefing Paper entitled ‘Data protection: constituency casework’ which can be found here: https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/SN01936

Freedom of Information requests

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) only applies to public authorities, and Members of Parliament are not public authorities for the purposes of FOIA, so your MP is not obliged to respond to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, for example asking how many constituents have contacted him or her on a certain issue. The Member can choose to provide information voluntarily if it is felt that it is reasonable and appropriate to do so. You may also refer the requester to a public authority that does hold the information.

The House of Commons and the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) are both public authorities for the purposes of the FOIA. This applies to information that they hold in their own right about Members. However, it does not apply to information held by Members regarding their Parliamentary and constituency capacities which is stored physically or electronically at the House of Commons.

Further guidance on the rights of access under FOIA and DPA can be found in section 3 of the booklet referred to above.

For general information and guidance on Freedom of Information, Data Protection and Information Security, see:

Updated KL October 2018

Members’ Staff Training Course 2013 Directory published – Jan to June

The Members’ Staff Training Course Directory has now been published.

This is your essential guide to the courses on offer from the House of Commons in partnership with Capita Learning and Development. All events featured in this directory are funded directly through the Department of HR and Change, not from your Member’s allowances.

The Directory is available to download here as a PDF: Members’ Staff Training Directory (PDF)

Asylum Casework

W4MP’s essential guide to dealing with asylum casework, written with the help of Melanie Gower (Senior Researcher in the Commons Library) and covering asylum, immigration and nationality issues.

Click here for the guide.

Here’s the index:

  • Introduction
  • Asylum seeker or refugee – what’s the difference?
  • Applications
  • Outcomes
  • ‘Legacy’ cases
  • Detention
  • Refused asylum seekers
  • Removal action

Security at Westminster and in Constituency Offices

As you’d like to hope, Parliament has about the best security and emergency planning of any place to work in the country.  This Guide can’t tell you everything (for security reasons of course!) but can point security-cleared staff in the right direction if you’d like more information on the procedures in place to keep our workplace safe.

There are well developed mechanisms to deal with all kinds of events, not only terrorist attacks, but incidents such as floods and fires of varying seriousness.

The main objective of these contingency plans is to ensure safety and security, and business continuity plans also exist to ensure that Parliament can continue to sit even if it’s not possible to do so in the Chambers.  It’s also very important that proceedings continue to be broadcast so that the public can see business carrying on as usual.

Every Member of Parliament and their staff, including constituency staff, must undergo annual mandatory training on Security Awareness, which can be accessed through the ACT learning portal.

Topics:

  1. Threat Levels
  2. What to do in the event of:
    Losing your pass;
    Suspect packages;
    Seeing something/someone suspicious;
    Receiving a bomb threat.
  3. Contingency Planning and Business Continuity 
  4. Personal Safety
  5. Communication
  6. A Note on Security in Constituency Offices
  7. Harassment or threats from constituents
  8. And finally….
  9. Useful links

1. Threat Levels

National Terrorism Threat Levels – decided by MI5 and the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre

  • Low – an attack is unlikely
  • Moderate – an attack is possible, but not likely
  • Substantial – an attack is a strong possibility
  • Severe – an attack is highly likely
  • Critical – an attack is expected imminently (used after 2001 attacks on the US, 2005 London bombings and the attempted car bombings in London and at Glasgow airport in June and July 2007).

The annunciators will tell you what the current threat level is, as will the Intranet

Response Levels here in Parliament

  • Normal – Routine protective security measures appropriate to the Parliamentary Estate
  • Heightened – additional and sustainable protective security measures reflecting the broad nature of the threat to the Parliamentary Estate combined with specific vulnerabilities and judgements on acceptable risk
  • Exceptional – Maximum protective security measures to meet specific threats and to minimise vulnerability and risk

2. What to do in the event of …..

Losing your pass – immediately report this to the Pass Office on x5920.  They will cancel it straight away to ensure it can’t be used by anyone else, and issue you a new pass.

While we’re on the subject of passes, always wear your pass in the Parliamentary precincts but take it off as soon as you leave the Estate and put it somewhere safe where it can’t be seen for the journey home.  Displaying your pass outside of the Parliamentary Estate could make you a target.

It is not permitted for anyone to work whilst on a visitor pass, not even an Intern awaiting security clearance.  Everyone must be security cleared before they start.

Suspect packages – Never ask people to address your post to your specific building or room number – always tell them to address it to House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA.

All packages are scanned off site before they arrive on the Estate, but all staff who are required to open mail in the course of their work should bear in mind the possibility of receiving dangerous items or substances.  In 2005, packages were detected addressed to Ministers in their Commons offices which turned out to contain a mixture of sugar and weed killer.  Look out for:

  • grease marks on the envelope or wrapping
  • an unusual odour
  • visible wiring or tin foil
  • if it feels very heavy for its size
  • delivered by hand or from an unknown source, or posted from an unusual place
  • excessive wrapping
  • too many stamps for the weight of the package

In the event of receiving a suspicious package or letter:

  • do not attempt to open it, bend it, squeeze it or tamper with it in any way
  • do not place it in anything (including water) or cover it
  • put it down gently on a dry, flat surface and walk away from it
  • evacuate the immediate room or area and call security on x3333

Seeing something/someone suspicious – immediately contact security on x3333

Receiving a bomb threat

  • Do not put the handset down or cut off the conversation.
  • If possible, try and alert someone else to alert Security Control while you stay on the line.
  • Obtain as much information from the caller as you can and try and keep them on the line. For example, pretend it’s a bad line and ask the caller to speak up.
  • On page 5 of the telephone directory there is a form for you to complete as you talk to try and obtain useful information – if you can’t get to the form, try and remember the message and ask the following about the bomb threat – Where is it?  What time will it go off?  What does it look like?  What kind of bomb is it?  Who are you and why are you doing this?
  • Once you’ve got information about the time and place, try to get as much detail about the caller as you can.

3. Contingency Planning and Business Continuity

There are plans in place to deal with all kinds of events, not just terrorist attacks but incidents such as floods and fires of varying seriousness.  The main objective of these contingency plans is to ensure safety and security.  Rehearsals for MPs, for example what to do in the event of a chemical attack in the Commons Chamber, take place every so often and you should encourage your MP to attend!

Business continuity plans are an even bigger job and are vital to ensure that Parliament can continue to sit even if it’s not possible to do so in the Chambers. There are temporary locations to which Parliament would reconvene if the Palace were to be unsafe, where facilities such as the Table Office and Vote Office could be set up.

It’s also very important that proceedings continue to be broadcast so that the public can see business carrying on as usual.

4. Personal Safety

The latest version of the Members’ Personal Safety Leaflet is now available on the intranet.  This is not just for Members; it’s vital that their staff read it as well. W4MP can’t emphasise strongly enough the importance of your reading this and taking appropriate action.

This 7-page leaflet (direct link to the PDF here) provides detailed information for Members on personal safety and that of family and staff. It covers:

  • Running a safe surgery
  • Obtaining additional physical security advice
  • Financial support for security measures
  • Getting Support from the Fixated Threat Assessment Centre (FTAC) – see section 7, below
  • Members’ Home Security
  • Suspicious Post and Packages
  • IT Security Matters

The Members’ Security Support Service in the Parliamentary Security Department is available to provide support and advice on personal security, social media security and security measures in constituency offices.  You can contact them on x2244 or at safe@parliament.uk.

5. Communication

In the event of an emergency, alerts will be shown on the annunciators, a prolonged division will ring and the voice-over system will give advice.  MPs will be paged, and email will be used for updates but not for immediate instructions.

6. A Note on Security in Constituency Offices

Parliament will provide reasonable security measures free of charge for constituency offices.

This might cover, for example

  • Minor building works to the office/surgery venue
  • Purchase, lease, installation, monitoring and/or maintenance of security equipment for use in the office/surgery – e.g. alarm systems, shutters, CCTV, personal alarms for staff

In the meantime, a useful measure can be for staff to have an ‘office code’ for a potentially dangerous or disruptive situation.  A constituency office I worked in has a code for calling the police in the event of a violent visitor – the Secretary would call to the caseworker in the back room, “could you get the Blue File please?!”

The Members’ Security Support Service can assist with the process of arranging security assessments and getting recommended measures installed in constituency offices.  Contact them about starting the process, or to discuss any issues you’re experiencing with getting measures installed.  Call them on x2244 or email safe@parliament.uk for further information.

7. Harassment and Threats from Constituents

If you are being harassed by constituents the first thing to understand is that you are not alone.  Every MP’s office – and this has greatest significance for constituency office staff – suffers harassment from time to time.  We don’t mean the ‘normal’ day to day pressure of work; what we are talking about is threatening behaviour either by phone or by email or in person.

Don’t hesitate to seek the advice of your local Police on security measures.  It’s best to do this BEFORE any trouble starts so you are prepared when it does.

W4MP has a couple of guides with information you may find helpful and these are here:

http://www.w4mp.org/library/guides/researchguides/your-mp-basic-info/members-and-constituency-etiquette-vital-guide/, and
http://www.w4mp.org/library/guides/2010-guide-to-working-for-an-mp-for-new-staff/how-to-survive-your-first-ten-days-in-the-constituency-office/.  This one is a bit out of date but still very useful.

If you are still concerned, your first port of call is the Serjeant at Arms Office on x3030.  They will advise on whether you need help from the Fixated Threat Assessment Centre (FTAC).  Read this next section NOW so you know what support is available.  Although a lot of the information is aimed at Members, it is entirely appropriate for their staff too.  Here it is:

INAPPROPRIATE COMMUNICATIONS OR HARASSMENT

It is part of the role of a Member of Parliament to deal with constituents’ problems, both in writing and face-to-face.  Members attract the attention of a range of people, including some with persistent grievances or strange personal causes and some of whom are mentally ill.  Most such individuals cause no problems and are unlikely to constitute more than a nuisance.  However, Members are occasionally troubled by more threatening or intrusive attentions from people which cause anxiety or concern.  In some cases, this amounts to persistent harassment.

The Fixated Threat Assessment Centre (FTAC) was established to assist with these issues.  It is a joint Police-NHS unit which specialises in the assessment and management of people who engage in inappropriate or intrusive contacts towards public figures.  It offers specialist assistance, intervention and support to Members, in collaboration with the Serjeant-at-Arms and the Palace of Westminster Police.

GETTING SUPPORT FROM THE FTAC

The FTAC will consider cases where intrusive behaviour is causing particular concern or distress or is perceived as harassing or threatening.  Potential cases for FTAC should be discussed with the Serjeant at Arms.

Constituency offices are encouraged to maintain a good relationship with their local Police as they can often provide them with security advice that is tailored to their needs, taking into account any local threats.

8. And finally ….

If you’d like more information on what the Contingency and Business Continuity Plans are, contact the Serjeant at Arms who is happy to give talks to staff groups.

Please remember that security is a matter for all of us.  If you see someone or something suspicious, contact the police or security staff.  Better a well intentioned mistake than ignoring something potentially disastrous.

Make sure you get a House of Commons Emergency Card – you can get one from the Pass Office.  It shows the Emergency Information Telephone Number which, in the event of an emergency, will issue a recorded message of advice which will be constantly updated as the situation changes.  There is also a website which will be activated in the case of emergency, to which you can log in for advice and updates.  General emergency advice and procedures can be found here: https://intranet.parliament.uk/access-buildings/evacuation-emergencies/emergencies/

In the event of an emergency, DO NOT report or even mention it on social media – you could endanger others by doing so.

Last, but not least, the security staff are here to ensure our safety and so please be nice and polite to them, especially at times of heightened security measures when getting in and out of the buildings can take a bit longer.

9. Useful links:

This note has been prepared with the assistance and approval of the Parliamentary Security Department.

Setting Up the Office

Setting up the Office

2.1  Choosing the right office(s)
2.2  Furniture, Equipment and Stationery
2.3  Computers
2.4  Email
2.5  Data Registration
2.6  Confidentiality
2.7  Involving Volunteers, Work Experience Students, Interns
2.8  Registering Interests
2.9  Health and Safety Policy for constituency offices
2.10 Dealing with post and deliveries


2.1 Choosing the right office(s)

The tasks performed by MPs’ staff include: research, providing briefings; drafting speeches and articles; casework, including handling letters, emails and calls; press and political work; diary and engagements; and keeping accounts.  Alright, so you do 101 other things as well, but the functions listed above, and who does them, will have a strong bearing on where any MP decides to locate his/her staff.

The choice is clearly between basing the office in Westminster or in the constituency – or a mixture of the two – and there are examples of every permutation.  Given the flexible tools of information technology, there are many tasks which could as well be done up a mountain as at Westminster, but the overriding considerations will be convenience and accessibility.  For example, having access to all the resources at Westminster and also having a visible presence in the constituency.

Here are some questions MPs will wish to answer before choosing the location(s) of their office(s):

  • Do you want constituents to have walk-in access to your staff?  (NB: please consider the security of you and your staff – see our brief comments on security in Section 3.9 on Advice Surgeries in our Everyday Tasks Guide)
  • Do you want to locate your staff in the office of your local constituency party?
  • Do you want to share with a neighbouring MP?
  • Is it most convenient to have a researcher at Westminster?  What happens to this role during parliamentary recesses?
  • Can all press contacts be adequately handled in the constituency?
  • Where is the most efficient place to locate your diary-keeper?
  • Is it possible to handle casework satisfactorily at Westminster?

In your office on the Parliamentary estate at Westminster, phone calls, rent, furniture, cleaning, photocopying costs are not charged to your Office Costs Allowance (OCA);   but you will have to pay for them all (and more) in your constituency office.

New MPs are entitled to a start-up budget, to enable them, amongst other things, to set up a constituency office.

Before you can claim any costs associated with your constituency office, including rent, you must register that property with IPSA.  Further details can be found in the ‘Guidance for MPs’ Business Costs and Expenses’, the latest version of which can be found on the IPSA website.

2.2 Furniture and Equipment and Stationery

At Westminster, standard furniture is provided at no cost.  In the constituency, however, you will have to buy it, although you can use the start-up budget for this.

The biggest items of expense will probably be those unlovely objects, filing cabinets.  Filing is dealt with in more detail further on, but do try to resist the temptation to provide a home for every single scrap of paper that enters your office on the grounds that it-might-come-in-useful-one-day.  With all the information available online now, and the wonderful backup from the Commons Library, you can confidently consign 99% of all that bumph to your paper re-cycling box.  So buy as few good quality filing cabinets as possible and consider looking for bargains in second-hand furniture warehouses.

Desks, chairs, lamps, phones, fax machines, filing trays, shelving, and all the other bits and pieces you will need can also be found in second-hand places but it’s worth comparing prices with those in the House of Commons preferred stationery supplier’s catalogue which you should have already, or can be found online here: http://www.bbanner.co.uk/  Your Member should have been sent login details already.  If not, please give their helpdesk a call.  Most items are delivered next-day.

If you need any workplace adjustments, please see this guide: http://www.w4mp.org/w4mp/w4mp-guides/workplace-adjustments/

USE OF HOUSE STATIONERY AND POST PAID ENVELOPES (Serjeant at Arms)

Please see here for the current rules on the use of House stationery and post-paid envelopes.

2.3 Computers

Each Member is entitled to loan computers, laptops, mobile devices and printers from Parliament.  The catalogue can be found on the intranet, or you can ask for advice by ringing the Parliamentary Digital Service helpdesk on x2001.

Please note that computers supplied by Parliament are only accessible by people who have security clearance.  Without it, you cannot even log onto a machine.  Therefore, it is very important that new staff apply for their security clearance as soon as possible, in order to avoid delays in getting network access.

2.4 Email

The vast majority of MPs’ correspondence comes in by email, and you may be surprised at just how many emails arrive every day – it can often be in the hundreds, so it is important that you agree with your Member how you are going to deal with them.  Some MPs give their staff ‘delegated access’ to their inboxes, which allows staff to monitor and respond to emails on their behalf.  Some MPs have two mailboxes, one of which is accessible by their staff, and one which remains private.  Having a second mailbox can be very useful, for example, if you want to use one specifically for casework.  It is very easy to drag and drop emails between the two mailboxes, if required.

Many Government departments and agencies also have special MP ‘hotline’ email addresses, which are extremely useful.  There is a list of hotlines on the Parliamentary intranet.

2.5 Data Protection Registration

The Data Protection Act 1998 came into force on 1 March 2000 and all MPs’ offices have to register.  It is quite a straightforward process and the people who deal with enquiries at the Information Commissioner’s office are very helpful.  You can ring their Information Line on 0303 123 1113 (local rate) or  01625 545 745 (national rate).  You can register online or email them for further information.  Their postal address is Information Commissioner, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire  SK9 5AF.   Further information can be found on the Information Commissioner’s website at: https://ico.org.uk/ and there is specific guidance for Constituency casework of Members of Parliament and the processing of sensitive personal data.

Importantly, the ICO’s guidance includes information on whether or not the constituent’s consent is required for them to act.  It says:

“For non-sensitive personal data, Members can usually rely on the implied consent of the constituent as providing the necessary condition.

For sensitive personal data, members can usually rely on the The Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data)(Elected Representatives) Order 2002, which also covers the disclosure of such data by organisations responding to Members.”

The House of Commons has published a guide on the process: “Guidance for Members and their staff.   It is on the Parliamentary Intranet (under the letter ‘D’ on the Site Index) or you can get further information from Guy Turner (turnerg@parliament.uk) or Heather Wood (woodh@parliament.uk) in the Finance and Administration Department. General Advice and Guidance is available from Edward Wood in the Library on 020 7219 6108.  The booklet has the following sections:

  1. Key facts about the Data Protection Act 1998
  2. Summary of action required
  3. General background on the Act and timetable for implementation
  4. Notification to the Information Commissioner
  5. Procedures for handling personal information within Members’ offices
  6. Constituency casework
  7. Handling information on employees
  8. Parliamentary privilege
  9. Sources of further information

There was also a very useful Question and Answer guide, published by the Fees Office in July 2001, entitled “The Data Protection Act 1998 – A guide for Members’ staff”.  It used to be on the parliamentary intranet (under ‘D’ on the Site Index) but isn’t any longer.  However, you can see a copy by clicking here.

2.6 Confidentiality

Working for an MP involves daily access to confidential information, both political and private. It should be treated as such and protected from unauthorised disclosure. Your constituents expect you to deal sensitively and appropriately with any personal information they give you. Being given confidential information about a constituent can sometimes put you in a tricky situation. Let’s look at three examples.

A constituent has asked you to contact the Foreign Office to speed up an application for his wife to join him in this country. After interminable and inexplicable delays, an Immigration Officer reveals to you over the phone that the reason for the delay is that the wife is being investigated for deception. This will involve an investigative trip to a remote part of her home country and there will be further delays; he asks you not to reveal this to your constituent. Meanwhile, your constituent is ringing you three times a week to check progress.

Another example: your MP has written to Social Services on behalf of constituents who say they are being unfairly prevented from having reasonable access to their children who are in a foster home at present. You receive two replies: one repeating the line that there is an agreement, made in court, that access is only allowed in tightly supervised conditions. The other reply, marked “Confidential”, informs you that the children have made allegations of sexual abuse against one of their parents, which are currently being investigated.

A third example: you receive an anonymous email (so you can reply to it but you have no idea of the name or postal address of the sender) claiming that a named person is defrauding the Benefits Agency and asking you to pass on this information.

You need to discuss with your MP how you deal with these situations. It is also important that, despite the pressures on your time, you read all letters from constituents and replies from agencies carefully before forwarding them. Sometimes you will get what appears to be a very forthright or stark response for forwarding to a constituent. Don’t underestimate the value of your role in achieving clarity (light but not sweetness, perhaps) for constituents; the unvarnished truth can sometimes help them to move on.

Only in exceptional circumstances should you pursue an issue for a constituent if it has been brought to your attention by someone else: a neighbour or a relative, for example. Always get the permission (preferably in writing) of the person whose problem you are being asked to help resolve. Here’s an example of a permission form.

Permission Form

NAME [Please print]________________________________________________________

National Insurance No: _____________________________________________________

ADDRESS _________________________________________________________________

I have instructed my Member of Parliament [NAME] to act on my behalf in this matter and would be grateful if any correspondence or documents could be sent to the address of my MP.
I confirm that I have given my MP permission to pursue these matters and to use all information I have provided, whether written or spoken, and including sensitive personal information.
I understand that this will be done in line with the requirements of the Data Protection Act 1998.

SIGNED___________________________________________________________________

DATE_____________________________________________________________________

2.7 Involving Volunteers, Work Experience Students and Interns

Given that anyone wishing to use a computer must have security clearance, this means that any short-term volunteers or work experience students must not be allowed to use them.  You need to consider this requirement when agreeing to any such positions, and you should never share log in details. Additionally, anyone who will be working on the Parliamentary Estate must get a Parliamentary pass, even if they’ll only be there for a day or two.  Most pass applications are processed in 5 working days, so get the application in as early as you can, but a few weeks in advance should be fine.

There may be problems about the use of volunteers in any office where paid staff are working, but most of us reckon that, despite some of the drawbacks, there’s a net gain from involving volunteers in our work.

For a handy guide from the Finance and Administration Department on how to best provide for work experience students in your office, click here or, if you have access to PDVN (the parliamentary Intranet), go straight to this page on the Parliamentary Intranet.

There are a host of jobs which suit the skills and time availability of volunteers. Bear in mind a few principles and the arrangement can be mutually beneficial.

  • Manageable Tasks. Most volunteers come in for just a few hours a week so you need to give them manageable tasks which can be completed in that time. Although some jobs – like culling the archived case files – are endless, make sure that volunteers don’t bite off more than they can chew and leave stacks of un-shredded papers lying around when they go. You don’t want to have to finish the job when they’ve gone home.
  • Check Reliability. Say, for example you have given your volunteer the job of opening and sorting the post. As you well know, it’s not just a simple job of opening envelopes and stamping the date received on it. Sheets need to be fastened together, replies must be linked to existing files, invitations checked against the diary, Order Papers checked for PQs tabled by your MP, stacks of unwanted bumph separated from letters you must answer, etc. That’s a skill it takes time to develop so it will pay you to tell them how you want it done and check it has been done correctly. Otherwise, their work will be a drain on your time rather than a bonus.

Make sure volunteers know that their time is valued and that you expect to rely on them being there when they said they would.

  • Silence Please! Make it clear, right from the start, that there’s work to be done and you don’t have time to sit and chat. OK, be kind to yourself (and them) and do the chatting during a tea break!
  • What’s in it for the Volunteer? Well, plenty actually. A sense of involvement, achievement or helping out; perhaps some experience to be included on their CV (so get them to keep a running list of the tasks they undertake in case you need to write a reference later); and, hopefully, some genuine appreciation from you!
  • Confidentiality Agreement. However well known the volunteer may be to you, he or she should sign a confidentiality agreement before starting work in your office. It’s not just about guarding Party strategy. You will inevitably handle very sensitive material about constituents from time to time and anyone working in the office will fall under the provisions of Data Protection Act 1998. Here’s an example of a confidentiality agreement which you can use or adapt for your own office. Let us know if you have an alternative agreement: use the Feedback Form.

Confidentiality Agreement

To be signed by all staff, volunteers, interns, secondees etc.

  1. Work undertaken in the office of _____________ MP involves access to information which is confidential. It should be treated as such and protected from unauthorised disclosure. It is an express condition of your relationship with ________________ MP that you should not divulge to any person outside the office of the MP any confidential information or aid the outward transmission of any such information or data.
  2. This undertaking continues after you cease to work for the MP.
  3. This undertaking applies to all material, including constituents’ casework, research, party political material, statistics, data, reports, etc.
  4. In the case of constituency casework, where it is necessary to relay information, letters, records of telephone conversations etc to third parties, this will always be done only in accordance with the interests of the constituent.

I have read this agreement and I understand and accept the above.

NAME _________________________________________________________

SIGNED  _______________________________________________________

WITNESS * _____________________________________________________

DATE __________________________________________________________

* line manager

Internships:  click here for all you need to know about a) becoming an Intern, and b) finding and looking after an Intern.

2.8 Registering Interests

When you first apply for a parliamentary pass, renew your pass, or change your sponsor you will be given a registration form to complete by the Pass Office. A Resolution of the House requires that you register:
(1)  any relevant paid employment you are engaged in outside Parliament, and
(2)  gifts or other benefits which relate to your work in Parliament.

The Pass Office forwards the form to the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, where your details are added to the Register of Interests of Members’ Secretaries and Research Assistants. You will be sent a copy of your entry then and whenever the entry is subsequently amended. The Register is available for public inspection and is on the internet. Members’ staff who are not issued with a parliamentary pass are not included on the Register.

Members’ staff may also be asked to assist their sponsoring Member in completing and maintaining his or her correct and up-to-date entry in the Register of Members’ Interests. The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and Registrar of Members’ Interests are available to offer advice to Members and their staff on any aspect of registering and declaring interests.

The relevant telephone numbers are as follows:

Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards: 020 7219 0320
(Personal Assistant): 020 7219 0311
Registrar of Members’ Interests: 020 7219 3277
Assistant Registrar (for Members’ staff): 020 7219 0401

2.9 Health and Safety policy for constituency offices

The Commons Department of Finance and Administration has a helpful and authoritative 24 page booklet – Guide to health and safety arrangements for Members and their staff (April 2001). The Guide applies to Members and their staff only while on the parliamentary estate and many of the details, as the guide itself recognises, “may not be directly relevant to constituency offices”.

 2.10 Dealing with post and deliveries

Courier deliveries (e.g. Amazon, ASOS etc) cannot be made directly to the Parliamentary Estate, nor must passholders meet deliveries outside the Estate and then bring them in.  Deliveries present a huge security risk and these rules must be adhered to at all times.  If you must have items delivered to Parliament,   please read the guidance here.

Register of Interests

Latest update: 30 April 2019

  1. Introduction 

Holders of photo-identity passes as Members’ secretaries or research assistants are required to complete a Registration Form on which they are asked to list certain financial interests they may have.  Anyone who is required to complete the form is automatically sent one by the Pass Office or else by the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

For those staff who are required to register their interests, detailed, specific information is below but a useful rule of thumb when considering whether to make an entry is to:

  • ask yourself whether the remuneration you receive could be perceived as having an influence your behaviour/conduct as a privileged Commons passholder;
  • if in doubt err on the side of caution and seek advice from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards office (number below).

You can learn more at https://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/standards-and-financial-interests/parliamentary-commissioner-for-standards/registers-of-interests/register-of-members-secretaries-and-research-assistants/ but here’s the key information:

In accordance with Resolutions made by the House of Commons on 17 December 1985 and 28 June 1993, holders of photo-identity passes as Members’ secretaries or research assistants are in essence required to register:

  • Any occupation or employment for which they receive over £395 (from April 2019 ) from the same source in the course of a calendar year, if that occupation or employment is in any way advantaged by the privileged access to Parliament afforded by their pass
  • Any gift (eg: jewellery) or benefit (eg: hospitality, services or facilities) they receive in the course of a calendar year, if the value of the gift or benefit exceeds £395 and if it in any way relates to or arises from their work in Parliament.

The figure of £395 represents 0.5% of an MP’s salary and will therefore rise slightly whenever MPs’ salaries increase.

  1. Obligations for Special Advisors

Since the overhaul of the Parliamentary Pass colour-coding most Special Advisors are issued with the pink passes that identify the holder as a civil servant. However, there are some instances where Special Advisors also have duties in the Parliamentary office of their Cabinet Minister and hold a secretary/research assistant pass.

In these circumstances you must register the name of the Department that you work for and your job title in that department eg ‘Special Adviser, Cabinet Office’.

  1. Councillors’ expenses and obligations for party workers

If you are an elected Councillor and receive either an allowance or expenses for your work, then these must be declared on the Register under “occupations”. (eg ‘Councillor, London Borough of Lambeth’).  Similarly, if you receive remuneration from a political party, then you must declare this on the Register under the same heading.

  1. Bursaries

If you are in receipt of a non-educational bursary that exceeds  £395 per calendar year, this must be declared on the Register.

  1. Exemptions

Be sensible. Whilst a whopping bursary from a large brewery company should obviously be declared, nobody is seriously going to think that your part-time bar work on Saturdays is going to be in danger of tempting you to exert a pernicious influence on your employer or the democratic process. If in doubt, however, call the Parliamentary Commissioner’s for Standards office to ask for advice (number below).

  1. Cumulative payments

Multiple payments received from the same source are registrable if cumulatively their value exceeds £395 in the course of a calendar year, even if individually one or more payment is worth less than £395.

  1. Current Register

You can check your current register entry by viewing the Register of Interests of Members’ Secretaries and Research Assistants, which is published on Parliament’s website.

  1. Contact

For more information, contact the  Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards: 020 7219 1883.
Website: www.parliament.uk/pcs
Email: staffregister@parliament.uk

Case management software information

Case Management Software

So you are interested in case management software?  A number of case management software products are available from private suppliers.  Each of these is different and geared to meet a particular need, so it is important that you know exactly what use you want to make of the product before you buy.  Costs can vary hugely, too, so it pays to do some research before you buy.  For example, find an MP’s office which uses the product which interests you, and ask how it works for them.

Before deciding to use any of these, please consult the Parliamentary Digital Service to ensure compatibility with software supplied by the House of Commons.

Here are brief details of some of the products commonly available. In addition, there are a number which are developed specifically for use by solicitors.

Inclusion in this list does not imply any sort of approval, and you are recommended to undertake your own enquiries.  Again, please verify with the supplier.

Packages we are aware of  are:

Caseworker.mp

Caseworker.mp is a cloud-based Casework Management software designed specifically for MPs, and is used by many MPs across 9 political parties.

As a cloud-based system there is no software to install.  This  means the system will work on any device including home computers, Apple Macs, iPads and Android Tablets.  Built using the latest Internet technologies with a modern easy to use interface, Caseworker.mp is the next generation of Casework Management software.

Key features include:

  • Built at web scale, meaning lightning quick searches and no waiting around;
  • Secure, uses the same encryption as internet banking as well as two-factor authentication;
  • No need to sync between Westminster and the constituency.  You are always using the latest data;
  • Centrally-updated Ministerial database including ministerial email contacts;
  • Full third party contacts system allowing letters to be auto populated with constituent and recipient information;
  • Electoral Register integration speeds up data input;
  • Advanced automation means automatic roll searches, auto assignment of emails to existing cases and intelligent auto-suggest;
  • Integrated inbox means that you capture information about constituents and their case whilst replying to emails.  No more replying to an email and then logging the constituent and case  in a separate programme;
  • Detailed and easy to use statistics system allows tracking of case types and staff workload as well as trends over time;
  • Integrated bulk email system with easy to use segmentation and exports;
  • Digital letters, send digitally signed letters on your own letterhead to ministers, third parties and constituents. No more envelope stuffing!

Price: £250 setup, plus a £500 annual hosting and support fee.  It is also possible to transfer your existing data over from another provider.

Website: https://www.electedtechnologies.com/mp/

Contact: Elected Technologies on support@electedtechnologies.co.uk or 0333 344 1225

CMITS Case Management, designed by Members for Members

The key to good case management is work-flow, making sure that you can quickly record information, file it and take action accordingly. Sounds simple doesn’t it? However, in amongst recording the information, it’s important to have the confidence that behind the scenes, there is a system taking care of all the mundane stuff that whilst important, can be time consuming.

Having worked with members and their staff since 2002, we at CMITS have gathered a wealth of knowledge regarding case management specific to the needs of caseworkers in the UK parliament. We have taken on board all of the suggestions, recommendations and comments and incorporated them into this brand new version. It’s an innovative, ground-breaking application, designed with the highest levels of efficiency at its core.

Dealing with over 65,000 constituents in the average constituency is, as you would imagine, a challenge. In the good old days when constituents wrote letters to MPs, it took a certain amount of effort to get around to penning a letter about a grievance. But now our digital age, including social media, has heralded a whole new level of access and expectation. The immediacy of the technology means that it’s much easier to raise an issue and expectations of an instant reply have never been higher. Not only do you have to deal with individual email requests for help from constituents but also pressure groups are now very adept at mobilising your constituents to raise issues together. CMITS gives you the ability to quickly identify and respond to campaigns as well as individual constituents.

Website: www.cmits.net

Contact: Martin P McSweeney
Head of Development
CMITS.net

CrossReference

Cross Reference is the PRU’s constituent casework management system, developed specifically for Members of Parliament and their staff.  It is currently used by majority of Conservative MPs.  Cross Reference data is stored in the cloud and is accessible on the move via your iPad, iPhone or other types of tablet or smartphone devices.  For more information or to arrange a demonstration please contact PRU technical support at prusupport@parliament.uk or call 207 219 5995.

Contact: Joanna Antoniewska
Tel: 0207 219 5995
Cost: £750 + VAT per annum.  There is no transfer or installation fee
Trial: PRU offers a trial period of 30 days

eCasework

This case management software is the all-in-one solution for councillors, MLAs, AMs, MPs, MSPs and unions.  It’s a notebook, address book, email inbox, diary and filing system rolled into one: a place to collect cases, keep track of everyone’s input and solve problems efficiently.  The web-based casework software is hosted in the cloud, meaning you can manage your cases anytime, anywhere on your computer, tablet and smartphone.

Key benefits:

  • Quick and easy to manage casework through our user-friendly interface
  • Powerful search means you can find any case, contact, message or file in a flash
  • Timely reminders and notifications to follow-up with constituents and officers
  • All your tools in once place – no more switching between different applications
  • Cloud-based system available everywhere you go, with everything in sync on all devices
  • All data stored in the UK and Ireland – no EU/US data transfers
  • Unrivalled account protection and data encryption in transit and at rest
  • Unlimited file storage

Price: £6.25 per month or £60 per year.  They offer a  free 30-day trial.

Website: https://ecasework.com
Contact: Live chat on the website, or email hello@ecasework.com or telephone 020 7733 4712

 AIMS Advice & Information Management System

The AIMS case management software is produced by Lasa and is widely used by large local authorities, welfare rights services, including Macmillan welfare rights services, national telephone help lines, carers centres, Community and Voluntary Services and small community groups.  A new free version of AIMS is available for immediate download from www.lasa.org.uk/aims/download

The AIMS system provides:

  • easy to use and ready to go case management
  • completely configurable client, problems, work and outcome details
  • a suite of standard and design your own reports
  • enables document linking and Word integration
  • advanced features include automatic reminders, room booking diary, linking third parties, mass communication tools and lots more…

We offer training throughout the year, provide telephone, email and web site support.

Price:               FREE

Contact:           AIMS@lasa.org.uk.        Phone: 020 7377 2806

Website: www.lasa.org.uk which includes information on training, support and upgrades. You can also download a demonstration.

CFL Caseworker

Previously supplied by Computing for Labour, CFL Caseworker is no longer available and is no longer supported.