LACA leads action to focus Government on crisis in school meals

Spurred by a growing sense of crisis, LACA is playing a leading role in developing a focused message for Government about the urgent help the sector needs.

It is coordinating with contract caterers, school food campaigning groups and charities and has already organised a ‘summit’ round table on the issue.

From that discussion, a small working group has been established which is meeting today (9 February). It promises to report back to all parties ‘very soon’ on the key points.

These are likely to include some or all of: Increased funding; the extension of FSM eligibility; universal free school meals (UFSM) for all primary age children; and the adoption of a whole-school approach to food education.

The chair of LACA Brad Pearce (pictured), who led the round table debate, said, “Having a single, clear message from everyone with an interest in supporting and improving school meals in this country is hugely important.

“As a frontline service with regular briefings with the Department for Education we can be the vehicle to pull the arguments together and present our case to Government.”

He stressed, though, the importance of involving all school meal groups in developing the message and in supporting it through all their own government and media channels.

“We will take the wish-list away and draw up a set of key messages to share.

“Then, when we announce it, LACA will stand up and I hope everyone here will sign-up to it and stand up with us, to help spread the message – suppliers, contractors and all school food campaigning groups and organisations.”

The round table, which was hosted by Brakes, was attended by representatives from LACA, The Food Foundation, the Jamie Oliver Foundation, Food for Life, contractors with significant school meals contracts – Chartwells, Caterlink, ISS and Sodexo – as well as major suppliers.

The debate identified a number of demands and actions they said they would like to see supported by the Government.

They also discussed the many barriers that prevented the schools meals service getting the help they agreed it ‘desperately needed’.

Among the issues identified were the recruitment and retention of staff; rising costs; lack of funding; lack of Government support (school food is not seen as a priority); and negative public perceptions of school food.

There was agreement among all the operators involved – contractors and arms-length organisations – that the school meals service was in a ‘critical condition’.

One of the biggest bones of contention is the money allocated for meals around the different parts of the UK. In Scotland the funding for meals is 30% higher than in England, while in Wales it is 20% more.

Many schools in England have to work to the £2.41 the Government pays them to provide universal infant free school meals, which is supposed to cover food and staff costs.

One contractor at the round table made the point very clearly: “The cost of serving meals is not met by the price we get and it’s a major issue.

“It used to be that if you increased uptake the extra meals created economies of scale, but we’ve reached a tipping point where that is not the case any more.”