Managing an Internship in Your Office

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Owing to the COVID-19 Pandemic, many MPs offices are closed to the public and are not accepting applications for work experience, so please try to understand if they are not able to accommodate you.

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 tour.  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.  See our guide on Tours here: http://www.w4mp.org/w4mp/w4mp-guides/guides-to-parliament/tours-of-the-houses-of-parliament/

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 IPSA Model Volunteer Agreement.

It is important that you read their guidance .  There is a distinction between ‘Employed Interns’ and ‘Volunteers’ and, if you are paying your Intern less than National Minimum Wage, you should read their Model Volunteer 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…

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

 

Surviving Your First Ten Days in Westminster

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THIS GUIDE IS BEING UPDATED.

  • Introduction
  • Day One – getting connected
  • Day Two – getting to know the Palace
  • Day Three- become a virtual explorer
  • Day Four – meet the locals
  • Day Five – food
  • Day Six – sources of information
  • Day Seven – a day at your desk
  • Day Eight – being the boss
  • Day Nine – the other office
  • Day Ten – being sociable
  • In conclusion

 

Introduction

Congratulations! Some people try for years to get a job with an MP and here you are.

You have entered the office for the first time, the phones are ringing, the second delivery of post has just arrived and an inexplicably grating bell is beginning to give you a migraine. Perhaps your MP is there, oblivious to the fact that you don’t know where to start and waiting for you to make all the confusion go away.

Don’t panic. I know it’s easier said than done, but really, don’t.

The most useful piece of information that you will get from this guide comes now… (brace yourself…) you might not know what you’re doing, but no-one else does either!

No matter how long you work in parliament, or how brilliant you are, you are unlikely to remember absolutely every detail of your MP’s diary, know the progress of every bill going through the House, or recall the name of that lovely man she/he met three months ago, you know, the one with the bald head?

Don’t worry. The greatest skill you will learn in this job is to keep calm, and bear in mind that rarely are things as world-shatteringly important as they are presented.

In your first ten days though, you’ll be doing a lot of fire fighting – reacting to events and circumstances that seem strange to you but everyone else seems to be taking in their stride. The aim of this guide is to suggest a few things that you can do in those first ten days that will make all the days after that run a little more smoothly.

The guide is aimed primarily at staff working in Westminster, however there’s a specific guide for constituency staff elsewhere – check the index page. It’s probably a good idea to read both when you have chance; you’ll be working with them every day, it helps to know what they do!

If you are super-organised enough to be reading this before you start your new job you can get a head start by applying for your security pass now. If not, don’t worry, but make sure it’s priority on your first day.

Applying for a Security Pass

When working in the Palace, one of the things you immediately notice is the number of overtly armed Police. Of course they are there to protect you, but it can be a little alarming on your first day to have to walk past police with machine guns!

Before you get your pass you will need to ensure that you are accompanied by a pass-holder whenever you leave the office. This is a bit of a pain, but not as much as being escorted out of the building and having to call your MP to let you back in. That’s not a good start to your first week!

Security clearance can take a long time. As soon as you are offered a job in parliament it is advisable to get hold of an application form and get it signed and submitted by your MP. Your predecessor or MP will easily be able to get you one of these from the Pass Administration Office (1 Canon Row); alternatively ring x5920 and you can download one from:  http://intranet.parliament.uk/access-security/passes. This is the first of several links to the intranet which will only work once your account is established – see Day One below.

Your MP’s office will be notified when clearance is granted.

Once your pass has arrived, you will need to take your passport, photo driving licence or birth certificate plus a proof of your address (e.g. utility bill or bank statement) when you go to collect it. NB: The address on this document must be the same as the one you put on your pass application form!

The pass-office staff will explain to you how to use your pass, but if you have any questions you can call them on x5920 or consult the intranet page mentioned above. There is a guide to Parliamentary security, and what to do if you lose your pass, on the W4MP website:  www.w4mp.org/html/library/guides/0707_security.asp.

  • Tip One: Before they remember your name, everyone you meet will be discreetly attempting to read it from your pass – if your first name is Jacqueline or Michael but everyone calls you “Jackie” or “Mike”, ask the Pass Office to put your preferred name on the Pass.
  • Tip Two: When you go to collect your pass they will take a photograph of you. This photo will hang around your neck every working day for as long as you are in Parliament; make sure you’re not too noticeably hungover/unshaven/dishevelled!

Things to get hold of at the start:

The Members’ Handbook

This is a guide to all the services provided by Departments of the House of Commons and includes lots of essential telephone numbers. Learn more about it here www.w4mp.org/html/library/guides/0901_members_handbook.asp or get a copy from the vote office (see Day Four).

Facilities and Services for Members’ staff

Have look at this document at http://pdvnsco.parliament.uk/bb/offclerk/MembersStaffGuide.pdf.

The Palace of Westminster Telephone Directory

If there isn’t a copy in your office, ring x5270 for one. This is not publicly available and the contents should be treated as confidential. There is an electronic version, which is updated more regularly, on the intranet at: http://intranet.parliament.uk/intranet/offices-departments/assets/pow-telephone-directory.pdf.

 

Day One – Getting Connected

It’s likely that today will be a bit of a blur, but there are a few things that you can do to make the rest of the week run as smoothly as possible.

Without your telephone and email account you will be pretty much stranded, so get this set up as soon as possible. Telephone the Parliamentary Digital Service (PDS) on 0207 219 2001.  The staff at PDS will guide you through exactly what you have to do.  They are invaluable and you will find you are calling their help-desk (x2001) whenever you have a problem. If by some miracle you already have access to the intranet, try this: http://intranet.parliament.uk/computers-equipment/computer-services/.

PDS offers a wide range of services to Members and their staff, principally within the Palace of Westminster, but also in constituency offices. There is a PDS help-desk in the Members Centre in Portcullis House, so you can always pop down and talk to someone in person if being left on hold on the phone just gets a bit too much! The main number for the Members’ Centre is x3070.

Getting onto the Parliamentary Network

You can only gain access to the Parliamentary Network once you have a security pass.  Get your Member or Office Manager to request your new account up as soon as possible.

Armed with a username and password you will have your own email address; you have to admit that fred.bloggs@parliament.uk has a certain ring to it!

PDS will also help you out with telephones, voicemail and printers.

Now is also the time to work out how to use the voicemail, divert the phone, and record a new voicemail message. Having your predecessor’s name and message on the voicemail for the first month is an easy mistake to make, but looks very unprofessional! If you have more than one telephone extension to your office, bear in mind that each will probably need its voicemail message changed individually.

http://intranet.parliament.uk/computers-equipment is the starting point for more information about the central provision of IT equipment.

At the end of each day this week, try to fit in a bit of bedtime reading. Aim to scan through most of the Members’ Handbook – it will prove invaluable.

 

Day Two – Getting to know the Palace

Today will probably still be dictated largely by your MP/predecessor, and they may want you to get to work straight away helping constituents, saving the world etc. But if you do get some time to yourself, there are a couple of things you should make sure you fit in:

1.  Explore!

Hopefully you will now have your pass. If so, it’s time to go and explore! Where you are and aren’t allowed to go in the Palace can be pretty difficult to remember, and to be honest, the best way to learn is by trial and error.

When exploring the palace, see how many of these places you can find; they will all be useful later on. (Obviously the bars’ ‘importance’ will be up to you to decide…!)

  • The vote offices (there are five: see Day Four)
  • The post offices (again, there are two…)
  • The travel office
  • The Table Office (Not actually an office that supplies tables… find out more at www.w4mp.org/html/library/guides/0506_clerks_new.asp)
  • The admissions order office
  • The Hairdresser
  • Central lobby
  • The committee corridors in the Palace
  • Your party’s whips office
  • The florist (“I don’t do bunches, I do arrangements”)
  • The Sports and Social Bar
  • The House of Lords bar
  • The Terrace cafeteria
  • The ‘debate’ (not what it sounds like…!)
  • The gym (this is a tricky one to find, which is a legitimate reason for future lack of gym attendance)

If you have a bit of spare time when exploring, ask the police at the top of the stairs in Westminster Hall if they will show you St Mary’s Undercroft – this stunning chapel is one of the hidden gems of parliament, and not on the official tour. You can impress your family in the future by taking them in, and make sure you get in the broom cupboard behind the organ, on the back of the door is a unique piece of history…!

To help you find your way around, have a look at the maps we have provided – check the index page. There are a lot more maps on the intranet.

2.  Book an official tour

Whilst exploring will probably be the best way to learn your way around, going on an official tour will be very useful, not least for when your MP asks you to take their nephew/local councillor/party of 50 school children on last-minute tours.  Don’t panic! See our guide here: http://www.w4mp.org/w4mp/w4mp-guides/guides-to-parliament/tours-of-the-houses-of-parliament/

Day Three – Become a virtual explorer…

The Parliamentary Intranet

After wandering around the buildings on Day Two, today you need to find your way around the Parliamentary Intranet (http://intranet.parliament.uk/)and the public Parliamentary website (www.parliament.uk). There is an enormous amount of information available and, like the Palace, the best way of getting familiar with it is to explore.

Here’s a list of things to find – Good luck!

  • Factiva – press database
  • Hansard Search
  • Parliament and the Constitution Alerting Service
  • Progress of Bills
  • Early Day Motions
  • Library Research Papers
  • Room Bookings
  • Select Committees
  • The Question Book
  • Upcoming business in the House of Commons and Lords (as well as adjournment debates)
  • Cafeteria Menus
  • The List of Library Subject Specialists and their phone numbers

Clue: If you can’t find something, try the helpful A-Z index. There are two versions:

 

Day Four – Meet the Locals

Some people in some Departments of the House have a reputation for being a little less than helpful to the staff of MPs. But the truth is that there are lots of very helpful people at Westminster whose purpose is to make your life easier. Top of the list is the Library – but they are not alone.

People to Meet

Almost certainly, you will have met some of these already, but here’s a list of key people and places you should locate early on.

Whips’ Offices

The Government, Opposition and Liberal Democrat Whips’ offices are located off the Members’ Lobby. It is very useful to introduce yourself to the staff who run the whips office; you will be in contact with them a great deal.

Vote Office

This is the name given to the places where you can pick up copies of the mountains of bumph generated by both Houses of Parliament: Hansard, Order Papers, Bills, Government publications, select committee reports – the list is endless. The main office has a window in the Members’ Lobby but also with access from the Lower Ground Floor so you can get to it when the Members’ Lobby is off-limits for you. Other Vote Offices are in 7 Millbank, 1 Parliament Street, Norman Shaw North and Portcullis House. The main phone number for ordering items is: x3631. The staff in the vote office are always very helpful – pop into your nearest one and introduce yourself when you start!

Admissions Order Office

Despite the confusing name, this is predominantly just a ticket office for the public gallery to the House of Commons. It’s just off the Central Lobby, to the left of the reception desk. You can call them on x3700 to reserve gallery tickets.  See our guide: How to Arrange Gallery Tickets here: http://www.w4mp.org/w4mp/w4mp-guides/guides-to-parliament/how-to-arrange-gallery-tickets/

Tours Office

See our guide here: http://www.w4mp.org/w4mp/w4mp-guides/guides-to-parliament/tours-of-the-houses-of-parliament/

Nurse

Just like being back at school, the Palace has its own nurse. She’s based in the Medical Room, which is at the North West corner of the Lower Waiting Hall (go to central lobby and ask at the reception desk if you can’t find it). You don’t need to make an appointment, and any member of staff or MP can go. Tel: x5103.

Department of Facilities

This Department is responsible for many activities you’ll need to know about so they are worth getting to know. They have several different numbers for specific functions most of which are part of the Events Team on x 3090. Here are a few you will need:

  • Booking rooms
  • Permission for filming and/or photography
  • Exhibitions
  • Accommodation (x3080)

You’ll find them down steps beyond the Admission Order Office.

 

Day Five – Food

Hopefully you haven’t tried to make it to day five without food, but now is the time to take a few minutes to learn about all the places you can go!

The catering facilities for Members’ staff are good and relatively cheap. There’s a wide choice and it is available somewhere at almost any time of day (except in recess, when the mentality seems to be that because MPs aren’t in Westminster, staff don’t really need to eat very often…)

It seems that MPs have special eating habits which lesser mortals might find upsetting, so provision has been made for them to eat in segregated areas into which you may not go…not unless one of them invites you, that is.

A Note About Smoking

Disappointment for all smokers – there are very few places to smoke in. You’ll just have to take it outside; information about smoking around the Palace is available on the intranet.

Places to Eat

You can find online menus, opening hours and locations of all the many catering outlets.  There’s a useful page on the intranet (http://intranet.parliament.uk/catering-outlets/commons-restaurants/) listing all bars and restaurants, in both the Commons and the Lords, and explaining what each provides as well as clarifying who can use each and when.  Here’s a few of the best:

  • The Terrace Cafeteria (also known as the Strangers’ Cafeteria).
    Located on the Ground Floor of the Palace (next to the Terrace – where you can only go during recess, unless taken by an MP), it is much used by House staff and Members’ staff as well as by MPs, who eat in a slightly bizarre segregated area, as mentioned earlier. Don’t forget to check out the adjacent Souvenir Shop while you’re there.
  • The River Restaurant (also known as the Lords’ restaurant)
    Located on the Ground Floor of the Palace but at the other end of the Banqueting Corridor to the Terrace Cafeteria. This turns into a bar in the evenings, and sometimes serves a small amount of bar food.
  • Bellamy’s Cafeteria.
    This is on the first floor of 1 Parliament Street and is often used by Members’ staff. Bellamy’s serves a good ‘traditionally modern’ range of meals, snacks and, most importantly, hot desserts.
  • The Debate.
    This is a self-service restaurant in Portcullis House. It serves a range of hot mains, pasta, jacket potatoes, soups, sandwiches, salads and a selection of hot and chilled drinks, as well as some pretty good bacon sandwiches in the mornings.

 

Day Six – Sources of Information

The Library

The House of Commons Library is your friend, the staff there are among the most helpful and professional you will ever meet.

In case you haven’t realised yet, this is not a book-based library like your local public library. The House of Commons Library is more about the people than the books. The library staff research and write briefing notes and papers on all bills and big topical issues as they come up. They will also undertake specific pieces of research that you need on request. (Amazing!)

When your MP gives you three hours to write a speech on “Retentions in the Construction Industry” or something else slightly outside the field of your expertise, it is the Library that will make you look like a star. The Main Information Point for Staff is x3666. There is also an extensive site on the intranet:  http://intranet.parliament.uk/people-offices/offices-departments/commons-departments/commons-information-services/commons-library/.

It’s also possible to book a short tour of the library by ringing x3666.

Guides to the Library

Have a look at these two brief excellent sources of information:

List of Ministerial Responsibilities

This essential book lists all Government Ministers, details of the areas for which they are responsible, phone numbers, etc. You can collect copies from one of the Vote Offices on the parliamentary estate or phone x 3631 for a copy to be sent to your constituency office. You cannot do without it! It is also available online, which has the advantage of being updated regularly to reflect Ministerial changes, linked from here: www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/resource-library/government-ministers-and-responsibilities.

Hotlines

Just because you are so special and important, MPs’ staff get access to a number of hotlines to Government departments, organisations and businesses. They’re very useful to avoid being left on hold for days, or having to go through a switchboard! The list is maintained by W4MP and is located on the intranet but more information is available at http://www.w4mp.org/w4mp/w4mp/hotline-numbers-for-mps-meps-msps-ams-and-their-staff/.  Make sure you never give these numbers out to the public or they will be withdrawn.

Data Protection

For information on Data Protection, please see our guide here: http://www.w4mp.org/w4mp/w4mp-guides/your-office/data-protection/

 

Day Seven – A Day at your Desk

Getting Paid

All this hard work and not a mention of any rewards. Well, while you’re at your desk, it’s finally time to look at your pay. You should have been told what your salary will be when you were offered the job. If not, then ask, now!

Unfortunately it is well known that parliamentary researcher jobs are not well paid. However, you should not be being paid less than the approved payscales. If you think you are being short-changed, make sure you raise it with your Member. More information available:

You can read our more detailed advice on pay and other staff rights here: http://www.w4mp.org/library/researchguides/your-employment-status/

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA)

IPSA is the independent body created by the Parliamentary Standards Act (PSA) in 2009. It has set out a new system for MPs’ expenses, including staffing allowances, pensions and office running costs and pays the salaries of MPs and MPs’ staff. You can view the new scheme online on their website (https://www.theipsa.org.uk).  If you need to discuss anything related to expenses and salaries they are probably your best initial port of call. You can email them at info@theipsa.org.uk or call their helpline on 0207 811 6400.

Pensions

As a member of staff, you are entitled to a 10% non-contributory pension. Start by looking at the IPSA website (as above); the information on pensions is in sections 8.9 to 8.11. Sadly, some staff don’t bother to sign up for their pension; don’t be one of these – no matter how young you are, you’re not likely to look back and regret organising your pension!

Commons Departments

The Department of Resources (DR), which was responsible for paying salaries, expenses etc in the last parliament, will continue to provide their Personnel Advice Service. They, like other House departments (Department of Chamber and Committee Services – DCCS, Department of Facilities – DF, Department of Information Services – DIS and Office of the Chief Executive – OCE), have a section on the intranet which you need to spend time browsing as soon as possible.  Lots of helpful information there.

Expenses

You are not entitled to many expenses, but if you are incurring travel costs in connection with your job, make sure you know how to claim. Your MP also has an annual allocation of return trips by staff from the constituency to Westminster which you are entitled to use.

Declaration of Interests

When you apply for a parliamentary pass you will be given a declaration form to complete by the Pass Office. As staff of Members, you have to 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 of a value greater than £328. There’s full information on the public parliament website: www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmsecret/memi01.htm.

The Office of the Commissioner for Standards administers Registers of Interest and advice can be obtained on x0401 or by emailing standardscommissioner@parliament.uk.

Unions

The most active Union for MPs’ staff with cross-party membership is Unite and you can contact them by ringing Louise Haigh (Secretary) x5074 or Max Freedman on x5989. Their new (Feb 2011) website is: http://unitepsbranch.org/. Further information – check the index page.

The Members and Peers’ Staff Association (MAPSA), again with cross-party membership, seeks to represent the concerns of MPs’ staff.  Contact MAPSA here: mapsa@parliament.uk  They have a page on W4MP here: http://www.w4mp.org/w4mp/w4mp-guides/groups-which-staff-can-join/representation/the-members-and-peers-staff-association/

Most of the political parties have staff support networks (ask your party support office) and the Interns’ Network is also active.

 

Day Eight – Being the boss…

The majority of MPs offices have an intern working for them, and it’s usually the researcher’s job to recruit, train and manage them. If you don’t have an intern then you can skip ahead to tomorrow’s guide! However, you might want to think about asking your MP whether you can recruit one; it offers a great experience for someone to find out about parliament first hand, and can be a real help in the office!

However, if you are going to take on an intern, make sure you’ve thought about it carefully.

Do you have enough office space, and enough interesting work for them to do?

Do you have enough money to pay them?

Or at the absolute minimum, to pay their travel and lunch expenses?

If the answer to any of these questions is ‘no’, then perhaps your office isn’t the ideal home for an intern. Remember they are not just there to help you out; it needs to be a mutually beneficial experience.

If you do have an intern though, now is the time to put some real thought into running the internship. Have a chat with them and find out what they’ve been doing so far, what they’ve enjoyed, what’s been a real pain, and where their passions and strengths lie; if you try to focus their work around these you’ll find it’s more beneficial for both of you.

Have a read through our more comprehensive guide to managing an intern – check the index page.

At the start you might find it hard to keep on top of everything that you’re supposed to be doing as well as managing someone else’s work. But over time you’ll find them invaluable; not only for help around the office, but also in many cases as a friend – someone to moan to when your MP looses his/her mobile for the fifth time, or neglects to read the briefing you so painstakingly prepared for them.

The Unite Interns Agreement; sets out a basic standard for an internship and is designed to be signed by the MP and their intern. If your office doesn’t already sign up for this, you might want to consider it. See it here: www.w4mp.org/html/personnel/tgwu/Unite_Interns_Contract.pdf. If you’re lucky enough to be among the 1% of parliamentary interns who do get paid, you should complete a contract from IPSA. If you are unsure whether or not you have a contract, speak to your office manager or to IPSA.

 

Day Nine – The other office

You have probably realised by now, but your office is only half of this operation. If you hadn’t realised and were under the mistaken impression that your MP only works three days a week, think again.

The constituency office is like a foreign land, but one you will need to get to grips with if you want to really understand what an MP does. They even have their own language, discussing ‘hands’ and ‘ears’ (not the body parts…), ‘stuffers’, ‘deliverers’ and ‘organisers’ and when they talk about their agent, it’s (unfortunately) not quite the same as in The Matrix.

But you will need to learn to understand what they do, especially if you want your MP to get returned at the next election. Coordinating your Westminster and Constituency activity by getting both offices working closely together will be invaluable.

Today, phone up and introduce yourself. Try to speak to as many people in the office as possible, and make a note of who they are, and what their role is in the office. You will talk to them every day, so it’s best to make friends now!

As soon as is possible (perhaps in the next recess) it would be a good idea to arrange a visit to the constituency. If you can be spared for a few days it’s incredibly useful to spend a bit of time working in their office and learning the ropes.

Volunteering to help out next time there’s a by-election will undoubtedly get you in their good books for a long time, and go some way towards disproving the myth that Westminster staff are all about the ‘glamour’ (!) and easy life in the Palace, rather than being committed to real local politics.

Ultimately though, the constituency staff are your friends. You will rely on them, and they on you; managing a busy MP from two different parts of the country simultaneously can be a real challenge, and the better you get on, the easier it will be.

If you haven’t had a look yet at our survival guide for constituency-based staff, it will give you a valuable insight into how the other half live!   Check the index page.

 

Day Ten – Being Sociable

The Monday Cartoon

Getting a Drink

OK, so chances are you cheated and read this on day one. Just for those (few) patient ones amongst you, here are the bars you can use within the Parliamentary Estate. The hours vary but, generally, they remain open while the House is sitting and at more restricted times during the Recess.

There are plenty of other pubs and bars around Westminster but you will, no doubt, discover those for yourself.

The Lords Bar

Coming from the Commons end of the Palace on the Ground Floor go past the Dining Rooms until you get to the Churchill Room; turn right, then left at the end of the white corridor. This is the cheapest bar in Parliament! (and probably London…) This bar tends to have slightly confusing opening hours, and generally closes by 8pm on a Friday night.

The Sports & Social Club

The Sports & Social Club is near the Peers’ Inner Court, it is also accessible through a door and down the stairs from the corner of Central Lobby to the right of St Andrew. Officially you need to be a member to drink here. Cost is £5 a year and, besides having a bar, they arrange various social events. Ring x3028. Watch out for the karaoke night on a Thursday, not something you want to end up in by mistake.

Other Useful Services

Cash machines

Run out of cash with all these new-found temptations? You can restock in three places: one is a few yards from the entrance to the Terrace Cafeteria, a second near the Lords Bar and a third next to the Post Office in Portcullis House.

Tights machine

No, really! This indispensable facility is available next to the cash machines by the Commons Terrace Cafeteria in the Clock Corridor. Next to this is the equally useful Photo booth.

 

In conclusion….

So that’s the end of your first ten days! Hopefully it’s been fun and you’re starting to feel at home in the Palace, so to speak. If you find yourself struggling in the coming weeks, don’t forget you can call any of the unions for a chat, but you will be fine. Working here is an experience you will never forget – go and enjoy it!

Need a lighter take on all of this helpful information? Have a look at the version by the wonderful ‘Dean Trench’; it’s in the Alt.Guides section of the W4MP website:

 

If you spot things which need updating or amending anywhere in this guide, let us know by using the Feedback link at the bottom of this page.

Tours of the Houses of Parliament

Standard

Owing to the Coronvirus Pandemic, all ‘in-person’ tours of the Houses of Parliament are suspended until further notice. 

Virtual Tours

Democratic Access Tours

Gallery Tickets

School Visits


Virtual Tours

You can book on to a 45-minute virtual tour, with time to ask questions of the presenter.  It will take place online and you can find further details here: https://ukparliament.seetickets.com/tour/guided-online-tour-of-the-palace-of-westminster

You can also view a 360° virtual tour of Parliament here: https://www.parliament.uk/visiting/virtualtour/

Information for members of the public wishing to visit Parliament can be found here: https://www.parliament.uk/visiting/

Democratic Access Tours (formerly known as Members’ Tours)

Tours of Parliament take 75 minutes, are free of charge and open to UK residents only.  You can find details, including start times of tours, here: https://intranet.parliament.uk/access-buildings/exhibitions-tours/parliamentary-tours/

UK residents wishing to book a tour can do so by contacting their MP’s office and should be booked well in advance, several weeks in advance if possible, as they fill up very quickly.  Find your MP here: https://members.parliament.uk/FindYourMP

  • If a group comprises over 25 guests, a second sponsoring MP is needed.  It might be worth establishing a reciprocal relationship with another friendly office to make this easier each time.

    Tours begin at Cromwell Green (by St Stephen’s Entrance). and take around 75 minutes.

It is strictly forbidden to offer Democratic Access tours of the Visitor Route of Parliament, the Elizabeth Tower or Big Ben as raffle or auction prizes and anyone attempting to do so may be investigated for a breach of the rules by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

Members of Parliament and full passholders may choose to conduct private tours, with a maximum group size of six.  However, these may cause congestion on the tour route, so it is better to book your guests onto the official tours.

More information on bringing visitors to Parliament and escorting guests along the visitor route can be found here: https://intranet.parliament.uk/access-buildings/access/bringing-visitors-to-parliament/

You can find the full script for the Palace of Westminster Visitor Route Tour here: https://intranet.parliament.uk/Documents/Parliamentary%20Tour%20Script%202017.pdf

or a shorter summary here: https://intranet.parliament.uk/PageFiles/27013/Tour%20Script/Tour%20Script%20Page%20Summaries%20-%20Numbers%20Corrected.pdf

Gallery Tickets

Please see our separate guide here: http://www.w4mp.org/w4mp/w4mp-guides/guides-to-parliament/how-to-arrange-gallery-tickets/

School Visits

Please see our separate guide here: http://www.w4mp.org/w4mp/w4mp-guides/guides-to-parliament/how-to-organise-a-school-visit-to-westminster/