In the mid-1800s, the political journalist and essayist, Walter Bagehot, said that “a Parliament is nothing less than a big meeting of more or less idle people.” Okay, so Walter was entitled to his opinion, but, in truth, the UK Parliament plays a hugely active and important role in making the big decisions that affect society. It scrutinises the work of the government, passes laws and debates the political issues that are currently affecting modern society.
The MPs and Lords that debate issues in the House of Commons and the House of Lords are elected or appointed – they are not hired. Consequently, we’re not here to talk about the career path to becoming a politician or a Lord. Instead, this article is all about the support staff that work for the UK Parliament, from the clerks and caterers, to the housekeepers and HR advisers.
What roles are available in parliamentary affairs?
If you pursue a graduate job in this area, you will not be a civil servant for the government. You will work directly for the House of Commons or for the House of Lords. The range of support staff that work in this area are essential for making sure all parliamentary affairs are dealt with in the most efficient and effective way possible.
If you work in this area, your responsibilities could be:
- Providing timely information, briefing papers and reports for ministers or Members of the House of Lords
- Recording the debates that take place in the Chambers
- Working your socks off to provide parliamentary staff with the most up-to-date I.T. technologies
- Providing administrative support to MPs
- Maintaining the parliamentary estate and providing catering services for Lords who are hungry after a hard day’s debating.
Career opportunities are open to people from all academic backgrounds. Indeed, some of the UK’s most talented graduates work alongside school leavers on a daily basis. Despite the fact that employees of UK Parliament aren’t civil servants, candidates can enter this line of work via the Civil Service Fast Stream programme.
How can I start a career in parliamentary affairs?
Graduates that are looking to break into the exciting world of parliamentary affairs can pursue a range of roles which offer them a high level of responsibility. One of the most common roles for graduates taking part in the Civil Service Fast Stream is that of a Clerk.
You can become a Clerk within the House of Commons or the House of Lords. These guys advise parliamentary committees on how to comply with the procedures of the House, draft reports and perform other administrative tasks. They also analyse specific issues and provide advice to the MPs or Members of the House of Lords that wish to debate on them.
All the debates that happen in the Houses of Parliament need to be recorded and published in a publication known as the Hansard. Consequently, highly-skilled stenographers are required to take down verbatim records of the discussions that ensue.
Other administrative staff provide vital clerical support to senior parliamentary staff, MPs and Members of the House of Lords. If you work as a parliamentary administrator, you might be maintaining financial databases, filing documents, overseeing procurement activities or working in HR.
Much like all central government departments, the UK Parliament is entirely dependent on its I.T. systems and telecommunications infrastructure. Consequently, a wealth of I.T. and telecommunications specialists are employed within the Parliamentary Information and Communications Technology (PICT) department to provide technical support, maintain existing I.T. systems, make sure all parliamentary data is kept secure and introduce new computer technologies into the various parliamentary offices.
Many people that are employed by Parliament focus their efforts on the provision of information services. Library clerks are employed by both Houses to maintain archives, conduct research and analysis and provide important information directly to MPs and Lords. Moreover, the people that work in this area are responsible for providing parliamentary information to the public through community outreach programmes and by dealing with press and marketing matters.
Finally, the parliamentary estate can’t look after itself and therefore a dedicated team of people are employed in estate management, facilities management and catering positions. If you work in this area, you might be:
- Providing expert advice on the maintenance, preservation and restoration of the Palace of Westminster
- Working as a security officer to protect the safety of tourists and parliamentary staff
- Cleaning the many nooks and crannies of the parliamentary estate
- Cooking up a storm as a chef in the parliamentary kitchens
- Waiting on tables and taking food to hungry MPs.
While you might not be heckling and guffawing in the parliamentary debates, you will be behind the scenes keeping affairs in order and making sure everything is spick and span and running smoothly.