POST – Rapid response content on COVID-19

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The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) has recent published several new reports relating to COVID-19.  If you’d like to sign up to the POST email newsletter, please go here: https://mailchi.mp/email.parliament.uk/post

COVID-19, children and schools
Children who have COVID-19 are much less likely to develop severe symptoms and much less likely to die from the disease than peple in older age groups. In this article we look at the latest evidence on transmission in children and what that may mean for the re-opening of schools in autumn. We have also produced a timeline of the scientific advice that was provided since February 2020 and the subsequent policy announcements on schools.

Read more on COVID-19 and schools


Child and adolescent mental health during COVID-19
Strained family relationships, reduced social contact and academic stress have mental health impacts on children and adolescents. In 2018/19 over 350,000 young people accessed NHS mental health services just in England. Child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) have been reduced during the pandemic. They are likely to be under strain to meet increased demand.

Read more on children’s mental health


COVID-19 in children: July update
In our July update we look at the latest data on COVID-19 prevalence in the UK by age and sex. We explain the possible clinical outcomes for children and review evidence exploring confounding risk factors, such as underlying medical conditions and demographics. We also look at the latest data on how COVID-19 affects pregnancy.

Read more on COVID-19 and children


Effects of COVID-19 on the food supply system
COVID-19 has exposed vulnerabilities in the UK food system. Panic buying and the slow reaction of retailers exposed how cost-efficient and streamlined supply chains struggled to adapt to unforeseen shocks. Problems also arose from the closure of parts of the catering sector and the lack of agility in redistributing supplies from this sector to retail outlets or the food donation/charity sector.

Read more on COVID-19 and food supply chains


COVID-19 vaccines: July update on research
As of 6 July 2020, WHO figures showed almost 150 vaccine candidates in development across the world, 19 of which were being tested in humans. In the past few weeks, vaccine candidates have been rapidly progressing through the first two phases of clinical trials (Phase 1 and Phase 2). These trials test safety and if they stimulate an immune response in people.

Read more on COVID-19 vaccines


COVID-19 therapies
This article was updated on 1 May and again on 6 July. Since its original publication on 17 April, the number of COVID-19 clinical trials has increased from 524 to 2,378. There is currently no cure for COVID-19. Researchers are testing existing drugs to see if they act against SARS-CoV-2 or alleviate the symptoms of the disease. Initial positive findings show promise of Dexamethasone and Remdesivir. But negative findings are valuable because they allow researchers to focus on other drugs; there is good evidence that hydroxychloroquine does not offer any benefits to treat COVID-19 patients.

Read more on COVID-19 therapies


COVID-19: July update on face masks and face coverings for the general public
There is some weak evidence that face masks and coverings can reduce transmission of the virus in some specific circumstances, particularly poorly ventilated and crowded indoor spaces. Policy on using face coverings differs across the UK. This article includes a timeline of face mask policies in the UK and the available scientific advice from 6 April up to 3 July.

Read more on face covering guidance for the general public


Contact tracing apps for COVID-19
This article was updated on 14 May with information on the UK’s contact tracing app. It was updated again on 3 July after the UK Government announced that it would be trialling an app released by Apple and Google instead of the NHSX app which was trialled on the Isle of Wight.The release of this UK app is now not expected until the autumn at the earliest.

Read more on contact tracing apps

POST Training for Academic Researchers

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POST – the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology – is presenting regional training sessions for researchers to learn how the UK Parliament works and ways to engage with Parliament using research, with a particular focus on framing and communicating your research in a policy context.

What does the training cover?
This training gives an overview of the UK Parliament and covers ways to work with the institution including details on Select Committees, legislative scrutiny, the House of Commons and House of Lords libraries, and POST. It also includes sessions on identifying how your research relates to policy, and communicating your research at Parliament.

How is the training delivered?
Sessions are delivered by officials from POST and Select Committees. The training is interactive and practical. You will leave with an action plan, plenty of resources and the chance to join our alumni network to receive further opportunities and support from Parliament. Refreshments and lunch are included.

Who should attend?
This event is aimed at academic researchers as well as those working in policy brokerage/research impact roles.

What will I learn?
As a result of the training you will:

  • understand Parliament’s role and processes and the difference between Parliament and Government
  • know how research is used in the UK Parliament
  • be able to identify opportunities to feed your research into Parliament’s work
  • know how your research could be relevant to Parliament’s work, and how to frame it in this context
  • learn tips and advice on communicating your research at Parliament including style and tone
  • be aware of where to go for further support

What does it cost?
There is an attendance fee of £40, including VAT. If this fee is a barrier to your attendance, please contact us; we may make exceptions in some circumstances.

More information can be found at www.parliament.uk/academic-training

Have you looked at POST’s publications recently?

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POST provides balanced and accessible overviews of research from across the biological, physical and social sciences, and engineering and technology. It places the findings of this research in a policy context for Parliamentary use.

The best known format for these briefings are ‘POSTnotes’: four page summaries of public policy issues based on reviews of the research literature and interviews with stakeholders from across academia, industry, government and the third sector; they are peer reviewed by external experts. POSTnotes are often produced proactively, so that parliamentarians have advance knowledge of key issues before they reach the top of the political agenda.

Find out more here: https://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/offices/bicameral/post/publications/

Research Briefings, Standard Notes and Debate Packs

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The House of Commons Library provides an impartial research and information service for MPs and their staff.  It publishes politically-impartial policy analysis and statistical research, free for all to read.  Explore quick-read articles, in-depth research, and interactive data visualisations.

All House of Commons Library Research Briefings and Standard Notes, and House of Lords Research Briefings are now publicly-available on the Commons Library website: https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/

It also provides research of the current business of the House of Commons: https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/this-week/

The Commons Research Papers and Standard Notes can be viewed by topic and sub-topic.  The links to these listings can be saved as bookmarks so you can go straight to the subjects you are interested in.

Debate Packs are collections of parliamentary and other relevant material produced for most non-legislative debates in the Chamber and Westminster Hall, other than half hour adjournment debates.  The packs are not prepared for Opposition Day Debates.

You can find the debate packs on the Commons Library website here: https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/type/debate-pack/

Commons Library Legislation Briefings

The Commons Library provides legislation briefings, which cover all major public Bills and the top seven balloted Private Members’ Bills.

Briefing Papers on Bills from the most recent Parliamentary sessions are available in the Bills documents sections of the Bills before Parliament web pages. Briefing papers on Bills from Parliamentary sessions 2001-02 to 2011-12 are accessible on the archived Bill Gateways intranet pages.

https://intranet.parliament.uk/research-online/research/business-topical-briefing/commons-library-legislation-briefing/

You can also view POSTNotes – research briefings from the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology here: https://post.parliament.uk/

Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology – POST notes

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The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST, for short) has been producing impartial, non-partisan, and peer-reviewed briefing notes for over thirty years on various subjects which may be of interest to Members and staffers.

POST is the UK Parliament’s in-house source of independent, balanced and accessible analysis of public policy issues related to science and technology.  Their aim is to inform parliamentary debate.

More information and the full list of POSTnotes can be found on the main POST site here: https://post.parliament.uk/

Their work programme covers:

    • Biology and health
    • Energy and Environment
    • Physical and digital science
    • Social Sciences

Their analysis covers:

    • COVID-19
    • Energy
    • Environment
    • Food Security
    • Transport and Infrastructure
    • Digital Tech
    • Security and Defence
    • Education
    • Crime and Justice
    • Health and Social Care
    • Science Policy

All publications (since 1995) are available in PDF format.  To sign up for their mailing list, please click here: https://mailchi.mp/email.parliament.uk/post

POST also hosts seminars and training events, details of which can be found here:  https://post.parliament.uk/events/

Setting Up the Office

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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 Budget; 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 most information available online now, the ability to scan documents, and the wonderful backup from the Commons Library, you can confidently consign 99% of all that bumph to your paper recycling 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, 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.

The Parliamentary Digital Service will also arrange for a free broadband installation at the constituency office and you can find more information about that here.

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.

Don’t forget to purchase a television licence for your constituency office.  Even if you don’t have a television in your constituency office, you will still need a licence if you watch live TV on your computer or any mobile devices, or download any programmes from BBC iPlayer.  You can find further information here: https://www.tvlicensing.co.uk/check-if-you-need-one and purchase a licence here: https://www.tvlicensing.co.uk/cs/pay-for-your-tv-licence/index.app  You can pay for it on your IPSA card.  You do not need to purchase a television licence for your Westminster office as this is covered by the House authorities.

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

Under the requirements of the Data Protection Act 2018, all MPs’ offices must register with the Information Commissioner.  It is quite a straightforward process and the people who deal with enquiries at the Information Commissioner’s office are very helpful.  Members of Parliament are exempt from paying a registration fee, unless they have CCTV such as a video-entry doorbell which records the images, in which case the £40 fee applies.  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.”

You can find further guidances on Data Protection on the intranet: https://intranet.parliament.uk/information-management/data-protection-security/data-protection/

There is an excellent House of Commons Library briefing paper on Data Protection and Constituency Casework  which looks at the General Data Protection Regulation, the Data Protection Act 2018, and when MPs can process personal information.

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 Home 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 2018.

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 information on the logistics of having for work experience students in your office, have a look at this guidance note.  It includes information on security and health and safety.  You can also read the information on safeguarding.  You may also find w4mp’s guide to Organising Work Experience in an MP’s Office useful.

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 2018.  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, so if you have security clearance for access to the Parliamentary Network only, then you do not need to 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

There is an intranet page dedicated to Safety at Parliament, which may not be directly relevant to constituency offices but still contains some useful information.  There is also a page dedicated to Health and Wellbeing.

 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.