News that the £240m tranche of new school funding covering 2008 to 2010 will not be ring-fenced for food has been given a mixed response by caterers.
Prue Leith, chairman of the School Food Trust (SFT), told the LACA conference that after talks with the Government the money would now be available to use on directly associated services such as training and new equipment, not just food.
Tom Seery, managing director of ISS Caterhouse, which operates at about 200 state schools, said the additional flexibility could be a bad thing.
"It should be ring-fenced for food because that is what these improvements are ultimately all about," he said. "With the original £220m from Government, many local authorities took a chunk of it for ‘strategic purposes', which saw them introduce another level of management at central level rather than improve ingredients."
William Campbell, business operations manager at Shire Services, the catering arm of Shropshire County Council, was also cautious.
"The intention with the first pot of money was to use it to build a lasting legacy but many councils opted for short-term training programmes, which weren't sustainable," he said.
LACA wants more investment in the school meals service than currently promised. Former national chairman Irene Carroll told delegates: "If the politicians are serious about this and want to reduce obesity and get real results they must fund the service properly."
Leith admitted the school meals service was under-funded. According to new SFT statistics, uptake has fallen 1.8 percentage points to 40.6% in the past year at primary schools and 5.3 percentage points to 37.4% at secondary schools.