Council chiefs switch over school meals

ESSEX council chiefs have backed down from their decision to scrap centralised school meal services for primary school children.Essex County Council announced yesterdaythat it would seek new talks with catering company Scolarest to extend their contract to provide hot meals for primary schools in north Essex until the end of the school year.

ESSEX council chiefs have backed down from their decision to scrap centralised school meal services for primary school children.

Essex County Council announced yesterdaythat it would seek new talks with catering company Scolarest to extend their contract to provide hot meals for primary schools in north Essex until the end of the school year.

The current contracts for the collective provision of hot meals at 340 of county's schools were due to end on April 2 after the council, which manages the administration of the service, decided a new bargaining process showed costs were too high.

Tenders for the new contract came in at more than £2million over budget and that meant meals would probably have to rise by at least 60p each.


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Council leader Lord Hanningfield decided that figure was too much and instead allocated funding to help small schools, which might have struggled to afford providing their own meals.

The move sparked outrage from parents, teachers and governors who feared their children would not be properly nourished because so little time was being given to organise alternative arrangements.

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But now the council has agreed with caterers in the south of the county that meals will continue until the end of the summer term and will negotiate with Scolarest about a similar deal in the north.

Lord Hanningfield said: “During our consultation with headteachers and governors, they have been clear that although they understand the reasons for ending collective purchasing of school meals, many would welcome a temporary extension so that they have more time.

“Throughout the whole tendering process our priorities in the council have been determined to ensure the continuation of a service to pupils and to make sure resources aren't diverted from the classroom to the kitchen.”

Labour county councillor Julie Young, who has led the fight against the scrapping claimed pressure had paid off.

“The whole process has been a catalogue of incompetence from the county council. Throughout, they've been devolving their responsibility, but we need long term arrangements.”

Bob Russell, Liberal Democrat MP fro Colchester, raised the issue during Prime Minister's Questions yesterday after County Hall's announcement.

He said: “I told Tony Blair about the disgraceful decision to do away with hot meals and suggested it was a dastardly act by the Conservative council.

“He said he understood that it was important that children were well-nourished so they could do well at school.

“This temporary extension by the council is not the end of the matter - it is still only the first course,” he added.

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