Leon co-founder Henry Dimbleby has hit back at suggestions that his review of school meals, with business partner John Vincent is motivated by money.
Dimbleby (pictured) was responding to a report that he and his family had recently spent a luxury holiday in Marrakech with Michael Gove and his family, just weeks ahead of the education secretary’s announcement that the Leon founders would be leading another investigation into school food.
Launched earlier this month, the review was heavily criticised by school meal champions Jamie Oliver and the Local Authority Caterers Association (LACA), who called for urgent action in place of long-running and expensive reports.
The news that Gove had holidayed with his new school food adviser has sparked further controversy, with Labour describing the revelation that there hadn’t been full disclosure over the MP’s relationship with a person commissioned to carry out a government review as “shocking”.
But suggestions that casual-dining chain Leon will benefit from the publicity surrounding the review, for which the two founders are being paid administrative costs and expenses, have been refuted by Dimbleby.
“This is not a job that is going to make us money,” he told the Independent on Sunday. “It will take us away from Leon, and we are very nervous about that. The only reason to do it is to make a difference.”
Gove’s wife, journalist Sarah Vine, tweeted about the week-long holiday, complaining that the Moroccan city was “wetter than Wales”, before adding: “Luckily @Henry_Leon [Dimbleby’s Twitter name] is making cocktails, so phew.”
The next morning she tweeted: “Can I just say, if Henry Dimbleby offers you a cocktail, be ready.”
Dimbleby has insisted that he and Vincent had been passionate about improving school food for a number of years and said that he had not been friends with Gove before they stayed at the Marrakech villa as the guests of a mutual friend.
A source at the Department for Education said: “Michael Gove met Henry Dimbleby for the first time on holiday when they stayed at the same house as guests of a third party. Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent bring a wealth of practical experience in delivering good food on a budget and it is for this reason they were chosen to undertake this work.”
Sharon Hodgson MP, the Labour the party’s spokesman on children’s affairs, said that Gove needed to publish all correspondence relating to this review, including material from his personal e-mail accounts.
The education secretary has come under repeated fire from Oliver and LACA over his stance on school meals, in particular his decision to allow academies and free schools to be exempt from the mandatory nutritional guidelines.
Hodgson added: “I have no doubt that Henry and John will listen to the experts in the sector, but this revelation casts serious doubt on the impartiality of the review’s findings, especially given that Michael Gove’s policy so far has been to exempt vast swathes of schools from having to abide by the quality standards Labour put in place.”
By Janie Manzoori-Stamford
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