Interview with Ugbana Oyet, Serjeant-at-Arms

Published 29 October 2020



To mark Black History Month, Ugbana Oyet answered questions from CPA UK’s Working Group on Racial Disparities. Last year the former electrical engineer, born in Nigeria, became the UK Parliament’s first black Serjeant-at-Arms in the post’s 600-year history. Ugbana spoke to the Working Group on the responsibilities of the Serjeant-at-Arms in Parliament, effective leadership, opportunities to connect with the Commonwealth to share and promote good practice, and what he perceives as the most important part of his role.

What does your role entail and how do you approach leadership?

The role of Serjeant at Arms is quite broad, however I will briefly outline seven aspects of the role.

  • The ceremonial aspect is probably what most people associate with the role, everything from the daily Speaker’s procession and prayers at the commencement of each sitting of the House to  State Opening of Parliament and commemorative events like this year we’ve held DDay, VE Day and Mayflower 400 anniversary events.

  • I have responsibility for Access on the House of Commons estate, this includes governance and management of physical access, security pass allocation, rules and policies on VIP and diplomatic access, rules on filming and photography, arrangements for media and broadcasters access and coverage of proceedings.
  • I maintain Order on the estate, this involves enforcing the rules of Behaviour and Courtesies around the chamber and galleries and enforcing other rules across the estate including rules to keep the House covid secure. 

  • Resilience is a very important aspect of my role. I’m responsible for ensuring there are robust plans for the continuity of the business of the House and management of incidents affecting the chamber. I plan, train, test and exercise with my team and colleagues to ensure our plans and standard operating procedures become second nature to everyone who would be involved in implementing them. 

  • My role involves significant amount of Engagement with various groups including over thirteen projects like NEP, R&R and Security programme, engagement with colleagues from other teams for example Digital and Visitor services, engagement with Members Parliament, external partners e.g. Met Police and engagement with the public by contributing to online content and speaking at events.

  • Like all leaders I am responsible for leading my team, ensuring there is clear governance and clarity on roles, responsibilities and expectations for everyone in the team, planning and monitoring of our performance, managing risks and financial controls. I’ve been blessed with an outstanding team and I invest time and effort to make sure everyone feels valued and knows they are important to our success.
  • As a Senior Leader in the House I contribute to corporate boards and groups like the Strategy Delivery Group and  Commons Leadership Forum. I also participate in corporate initiatives like the Clerk’s BAME Advisory Group. The role of Serjeant at Arms is full, engaging and enjoyable.

What role can the Serjeant at Arms play to foster stronger relationships between the UK Parliament and the Commonwealth?

The Commonwealth Serjeants conference was postponed this year due to covid19. I have however maintained close contact with Serjeants in Canada, New Zealand as well as the devolved assemblies in the UK to share knowledge and learn from each other’s approach to addressing the challenges brought by covid19. 

That said I would like to build stronger relationships with Serjeants across Commonwealth Parliaments and have more frequent interactions outside of the five yearly conference. In particular I would like to explore how to maximise the use of technology in our roles and our Parliaments to improve how we work, enhance access and secure sustainability.

I would also like to see more knowledge sharing on how to improve the resilience of our people, processes and infrastructure. I will be reaching out to Commonwealth Serjeants and would welcome contact from Serjeants who wish to explore this together.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

This is the most demanding and at the same time the most enjoyable role I’ve had in my career. The pomp and ceremony of our ceremonials is captivating for people the world over and it appeals to the part of me that loves uniforms, marching, parades and band music, albeit others provide the band music and only at certain events. The most important part of my role is engagement. Engaging with the Speaker and Clerk to ensure we are focused on the right priorities and can pivot rapidly and adjust our posture as changes occur. Engagement with colleagues to deliver on security, technology, resilience, access and unlock blockages quickly. Engagement with other legislatures to share learning and and flatten the curve as we’ve done over covid19. Engagement with Members, the public and our supply chain.

The value of engagement is the strong collaborative relationships built on trust that enables us to deliver at pace achieving excellence in everything. This facilitates the safe, smooth running of the House.