Part of Parliament: Charlotte Simmonds – Corporate Services
The contrast between life in the concrete jungle of Canary Wharf to the Houses of Parliament was stark for Charlotte Simmonds. But over the last 10 years, she has really made her mark
I came to Parliament in 2008 as Head of Fire Safety & Environment, having been recognised as one of Management Today’s 35 women under 35 in the UK. The contrast between cool Canary Wharf and the heritage of the Houses of Parliament was stark. But over time I’ve got to know and enjoy Parliament – the place, the people and my part in it.
Since joining I’ve had two children and worked in four departments: Estates, Committees, Governance and Corporate Services. For 90% of that time I have been bicameral, working for both Houses. Right now, I head up the team that makes sure that there is consistency in the management of the vast number of parliamentary projects that are underway, be they construction, digital or business change.
A typical day consists of spending time with people and data, supporting and coaching my direct team and the wider community of project professionals who work hard to navigate our complex governance and deliver ambitious projects in a challenging environment. What’s challenging about it? For a start, we have to preserve and maintain services in a 24/7 operational environment that’s part of a World Heritage Site with two different corporate bodies (Commons and Lords). You probably haven’t heard of the Mechanical & Electrical Programme that has significantly reduced the risk of failure of critical services without once disrupting the business of either Chamber. It is also unlikely that you know about the Digital Infrastructure Transformation Programme, but you would certainly know if the lights went out or there was a mass IT and broadcasting failure! We are doing all this work, so we make it to the big one – the Restoration and Renewal of the Palace of Westminster (R&R).
For this job, you also need patience as it can take time to get things done in our environment, but it is so satisfying when you get to see the fruits of your labour. At heart I want to make a difference and right now I’m helping preserve the foundations of UK democracy and that’s pretty cool for a working mum of two little kids juggling everything that entails.
One example of making a difference is the steps we have taken to reduce the risks of fire on the Estate. In my previous role, my team set out the critical case for change to ensure the people in Parliament continue to be safe and we don’t have a repeat of the great fire of 1834 that devastated the old Parliament. There have certainly been challenges along the way – being the first female lead of the fire safety team, transferring and integrating staff from the Met Police, and rolling out training to give every person on the Estate a knowledge of fire safety. Now I’m on the other side helping to make sure the programme sticks to good governance, mitigates risks, manages dependencies, engages with stakeholders and does what it set out to.
I am most proud of Parliament coming runner-up (to the Environment Agency) in the Most Sustainable Public Sector Organisation awards in 2015. I’ve also been mentioned in the Commons Chamber twice (in relation to fire safety work and work for the House of Commons Governance Committee). It’s always nice when your efforts are recognised. Personally, the hardest day was returning to work after maternity leave for a baby (that did not sleep) into a new job as Clerk Adviser to the House of Commons Governance Committee. On a professional level, and I’m sure many colleagues in the House would say the same, it was March 22 2017. I was working on the Underground on 7 July 2005 and it bought back how vulnerable we are. Vulnerable but resilient.
The next big thing on the horizon is R&R, a whole other scale of project for us and our greatest opportunity to make this Parliament resilient and fit for the future.