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Catering costs are ‘crippling' school

19 July 2004
Catering costs are ‘crippling' school

School meals are being paid for at the expense of books and teaching staff, according to the head of one Wiltshire primary school.

Jon Smith, of the Newton Tony primary school in Salisbury, said the cost of school meals was crippling the school's finances. He reckons the contract signed by the county council in 2001 does not represent best value and was driving the school into the red.

"It is scandalous this agreement is taking books out of the hands of children and depriving them of their basic needs," he said.

Following a series of complaints about value for money, Wiltshire County Council has launched a review of school meals provided by contract caterer Sodexho. The first meeting will be held this month, with results expected three months later.

Wiltshire schools tied into a contract with Sodexho pay an average of £2,600 a year to receive catering services. Parents pay for meals on top of this.

Smith admitted that his predecessor had signed up to the seven-year contract, but added that the small size of the school, minimal take-up of meals, and contract breaches had made it untenable.

Sodexho said the fee was vital to cover management costs and keep the contract financially viable. However, the contract catering giant concluded in its annual report that school meals in the county remained "contentious and problematic". Both the caterer and the council blame the lower-than-expected sign-up to the contract for the additional costs.

Sodexho has admitted some contract breaches at the Newton Tony school and has agreed to pay it £321 as compensation, but the caterer refused to release the school from the contract.

"We are unable to consider releasing schools from their obligation, as this will place a greater financial liability upon Sodexho," said Alan Bowley, Sodexho's contract director for the council, in a letter.

Wiltshire council said it had sent monitors to the school following Smith's complaints, but had found no problems.

In a statement, Sodexho said it was "inappropriate to comment with regard to an individual school".

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