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By Bishop of Leeds
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Parliament Needs Tens Of Thousands Of Unscheduled Repair Jobs Every Year

Big Ben during its planned restoration in 2017 (Alamy)

5 min read

A leading expert on parliament's restoration has warned that parliament will require huge amounts of work to "keep the lights on, the air flowing and the sewage working" as new data shows that tens of thousands of unexpected repair jobs are needed on the estate every year.

Between 1 January and 6 July 2023, there were a total of 26,700 unscheduled “reactive" maintenance jobs recorded across the parliamentary estate, according to data released to PoliticsHome by the House of Commons under Freedom of Information. 

The same figures show that in 2022 there were a total of 44,726 unplanned reactive repair jobs. 

The numbers dipped during the Covid years, with 32,313 such jobs in 2020, and 34,313 in 2021. In 2019 there were more than 50,000 reactive maintenance jobs recorded.

It is understood that the data includes multiple maintenance on the same issue. A spokesperson said that the "vast majority of which are minor and limited in scope".

The Restoration and Renewal programme is the work being carried out to preserve the Palace of Westminster, which contains the House of Commons and the House of Lords, as well as the 900-year-old Westminster Hall. 

Dr Alexandra Meakin, a lecturer at the University of Leeds and expert in Parliament’s Restoration and Renewal programme, told PoliticsHome that the repair figures demonstrate “the challenge of the building” and “the complexity of it” with staff “constantly having to react to all of these different unscheduled maintenance events”. 

“As the building gets older and the infrastructure gets older it takes more and more work just to keep the lights on, keep the air flowing, keep the sewage working,” she said.  

The work of Restoration and Renewal is overseen by members of the House of Commons and House of Lords, and they are expected to have the next vote on how the programme can proceed at a point later this year. 

“There is this misconception that doing nothing is the cheap option, or a cost free option and we can’t afford restoration and renewal, but doing nothing is actually very expensive because you’re having to do this reactive maintenance all the time,” Meakin said.  

She described the drop in the number of reactive jobs during the Covid years is “completely understandable” given the reduced number of people on the parliamentary estate during that time. 

But she said the scale of repairs needed “shows that the problem hasn’t gone away, it only continued to get worse".

Meakin described fire safety and falling masonry as particular concerns among MPs and peers that she has spoken to, but also a degree of “anger” and embarrassment about accessibility. 

 "When their constituents come to visit, they're embarrassed," she explained.  

“[MPs] are putting up with a lot, they put up with the horrible sewage, they put up with the windows whistling, the terrible cold in the winter and the heat in the summer. 

“A lot of that is ‘we work in an historic building, it’s to be expected’, but there are some things that they know ‘we shouldn’t have our parliamentary building in this state because there is a real risk to our staff and our constituents.” 

Last month, parliamentary authorities investigated after a glass ceiling panel collapsed, causing gallons of water to fall from the roof into a crowded communal area of Portcullis House, a building on the parliamentary estate. 

Part of the large atrium – an area often busy with MPs, parliamentary staff, and media working in the buildings – has been cordoned off since the incident on 11 July. 

Tweeting at the time, Labour MP Charlotte Nichols referred to the incident as “just another normal day in our very fit for purpose Parliament”. 

A Parliament spokesperson told PoliticsHome: “We are getting on with work across the Parliamentary estate to ensure the safety of those who work and visit here, and to support the continued business of Parliament.

"The jobs referenced cover a variety of maintenance requests, the vast majority of which are minor and limited in scope.

"These sorts of requests apply to a number of buildings across Westminster, including the thousands of rooms and many miles of corridors that are used on an everyday basis."

"We work hard to keep Parliament safe for both the members of the public that visit and for the staff and parliamentarians that work here - and where issues are identified, we act quickly to address them.”

Last week, PoliticsHome reported that Dr Ruth Fox, director of the Hansard Society, had warned that Parliament’s age and state of disrepair had left it vulnerable to rising energy costs, as the bill for the first two months of this financial year was almost £900,000. 

“The Palace of Westminster is an old Victorian building in a state of disrepair, so it’s inevitable that it’s going to to be hit heavily by increases in the cost of energy," she said. 

“This is one reason why the restoration of the Palace is so important, to improve the energy efficiency of the building and in circumstances like this help reduce costs.” 

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