Local authorities in Dorset have come under fire from parents, teachers and governors for failing to introduce hot school meals, despite having the contracts to do so.
Although Poole, Bournemouth and Dorset councils have been moving towards introducing a service - due to go live for the start of the academic year in 2007 - they have been accused of dragging their heels since the publication of Government's school meals White Paper Turning the Tables in 2005.
Heather Williams, whose four-year-old daughter is a pupil at Courthill First School in Poole, has formed a School Nutrition Action Group in an attempt to force schools to introduce hot meals - unavailable in the county for decades - immediately.
"We have to catch children young before they form bad eating habits," she told Caterer. "The council has the contract to provide food to schools but they're saying they can't and have refused to put it out to tender. It's so frustrating."
Children at the school have to bring packed lunches, which are consumed at their desks. A trial with private caterer Cygnet had been due to run this academic year but was halted after the contractor warned site fit-out costs would push meal costs too high.
Karen Withers, who is responsible for healthy eating provision at Poole Council, said the authority had joined forces with Bournemouth and Dorset councils to secure a county-wide school meals contractor for the forthcoming academic year. She argued that schools in the area lacked both the expertise and the funding to roll out hot meals any sooner.
"The image sold by the Government of meals cooked in schools hasn't been realistic for us, as our schools lack kitchens, refrigeration or even washing up space," Withers said. "The extra cash Government has provided has been fine for equipment, such as tables and cutlery, but not enough to conduct building work to put in cooking facilities."
By Chris Druce