Jamie Oliver's claim that the majority of school kitchens do not have proper facilities because of insufficient funding has been backed by the contract catering industry.
Over the weekend, the school dinners campaigner said a "personal survey" had convinced him that kitchens in six out of 10 schools would be condemned if they were not controlled by local councils.
Oliver added that problems highlighted three years ago in his Jamie's School Dinners TV series still had not been addressed, and warned that the current level of funding was simply "not enough" to solve the problem.
Gordon Haggarty, managing director of Accent Catering, which won a trio of school meals contracts early this month, said that he "fully supported" the comments.
He said: "Most education sector contracts that we take over include a refurbishment to include more energy-efficient equipment, raising the standards in the kitchen."
Steve Quinn, managing director of school caterer Cucina Restaurants, also agreed. "It is true that our school kitchens have lacked investment in recent years," he said. "But in my experience, carefully targeted investment does not have to cost the earth to make a big difference."
Last week the Government announced plans to trial free meals at two primary schools. The move was welcomed by the Soil Association and the Local Authority Caterers Association (LACA) but both called for additional funding to support the scheme.
Funding has been a constant issue in the school meals debate. In a Caterer
"The Government last year made an additional £150m available for capital improvements to buildings and asked schools and local authorities to bid for the money. However only £50m of this was spent in the end last year, the problem being that local authorities and schools had to provide match funding, which for many meant it was a non-starter," said Neil Porter, chairman of the Local Authority Caterers Association (LACA), who warned the viability of the entire secondary school dinners system remained in doubt without further government support.
The Government has promised £240m for the period 2009-11 for schools in England, but with 23,000 in the country this means only £10,000 each - hardly enough to install or even update a kitchen. At the same time, financial pressures mean that many new schools are built without kitchens, as the Government has not made it mandatory to serve hot meals.
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By Chris Druce
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