‘Below standard’ – MPs receive apology over ongoing issues with parliamentary phone system

Parliamentary officials have acknowledged recent outages affecting handsets of MPs and peers, and offered reassurances that an upgrade programme will deliver an improved service by the end of the year

MPs have been offered an apology after parliamentary officials acknowledged that the Palace of Westminster’s phone system has suffered weeks of technical issues.

Oversight bodies the House of Commons Commission and the Lords Services Committee – which, in recent weeks, have faced a number of parliamentary questions on the issue – have acknowledged two separate instances in which telephone handsets manufactured by telecoms firm Polycom have stopped working. In between which, the overall performance of the system has been “below standard”, the commission has acknowledged.

The first acknowledged outage came on Friday 12 April, when “the Parliamentary Digital Service (PDS) were made aware of a potential issue affecting Polycom telephone handsets, used with the Microsoft telephone service”, according to Labour peer Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall.

“Following a thorough investigation, a root cause was identified and resolved on Tuesday 16 April 2024,” she added.

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In an update provided last week, Conservative MP Sir Charles Walker – who sits on the House of Commons Commission – revealed that the telephony platform had suffered another outage on Thursday 9 May. This shutdown occurred after “one of two external servers… experienced issues… and any device that attempted to connect to this server was impacted by the outage” .

Those handsets which communicated with the other of the two servers “did not experience an outage”, according to Walker.

“The first report the Digital Service received of handsets not working was at 12.13pm on Thursday 9 May,” he said, in comments published last week. “The team declared a major incident shortly afterwards and service was restored at 9.46am on 10 May.”

The commission representative apologised to his colleagues and offered assurances that an ongoing upgrade project to deliver a new telephony system will improve services.

“I am sorry that… all colleagues continue to experience inconvenience in telephony services which are currently below standard,” he said. “The latest issue with handsets underlines the need for the solution which the Parliamentary Digital Service is implementing later this year. The Voice Programme is upgrading and replacing the existing telephony infrastructure and when implemented, handsets will have 99.999% reliability of connecting.”

PublicTechnology made several attempts to contact Polycom – which is now known simply as Poly, and is owned by HP – but received no response.

Sam Trendall

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