Every two years or so I arrange a visit to Westminster for Afternoon Tea.
It is not a fundraiser and never has been; the cost of the tea and the coach hire is so high that it would be almost impossible to add a margin for the Association - and even if we could do so we wouldn't as it is against the rules to profit from events at Westminster. In fact, once we take the printing and administration into account, it probably costs us money. It is, however, a nice thing to do.
A basic Afternoon Tea (cup of tea, finger sandwiches and a cream cake) is £20.00, similar to what one would pay in a decent tea shop but less that a top hotel. In fairness, given the location I don;t think that is unreasonable.
This year however, for the first time, the parliamentary authorities have introduced a "room hire fee". Again, I have no problem with the principle of this provided the fee is fair and reasonable. And that is the problem. The room hire fee for the terrace pavilion is £2700. Considering we are going to be there for two hours, that's a hire charge of £1350 per hour. If we had selected the Members' Dining Room instead of the Terrace Pavilion, the rate would have been an eye-blistering £4500!
Had there been 100 people attending, the £2700 room hire would have to be divided between them resulting in a charge per person of £27 before the cost of the tea (£20) and the coach travel (£10) was added, resulting in a cost per person of £57. Fortunately we have managed to attract 150 guests which has reduced the hire charge per person to £18 (plus £20 for the tea and £10 travel) so the total cost per guest is £48. Still high for three finger sandwiches, tea and a scone!
I appreciate the Palace of Westminster is a prestigious venue and in times of austerity monetising the parliamentary estate to offset running costs is the right thing to do. However there is a balance between charging major corporations (for whom £2700 is an insignificant sum) and imposing what many would consider a punitive tariff on voluntary organisations.
The UK Parliament prides itself on being open and accessible and rightfully so. Sadly I cannot see how pricing parliament out of the reach of so many helps achieve this goal. I hope a number of MPs will take up this issue and ask the House of Commons Administration Committee to look at this again.