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Ditch the quangos to fund school meals

16 July 2010
Ditch the quangos to fund school meals

If it wants to protect quality in the wake of the cuts to school meals, the Government must divert money to front line service, says Dolce managing director Dan Curtis.

When Michael Gove wrote to his predecessor Ed Balls, scrapping the plans to extend free school meals because the sum of £85m was short of the true cost, my first thought was to wonder how much of this shortfall had been caused by the previous Government's £60m spend on the unnecessary quango, the School Food Trust.

What the Government thought spending £60m on these well-meaning school dinner virgins would do, other than to divert more money away from the ingredients on the plate, remains a mystery to me.

The reality of the School Food Trust has been the production of endless guidelines, red tape, consultations and the regular distribution of research studies revealing supposedly "startling" facts designed to send parents into a frenzy, all the while adding new layers of cost to what should be a straightforward service.

Its formation was one of a number of kneejerk reactions by the Government, when in 2005 Jamie Oliver sparked public interest in the nutritional quality of meals served to children.

There may have been lots of schools getting it wrong, but there were also plenty who were getting it right.

This was not an issue about lack of education; caterers, schools and local education authorities (LEAs) understood what constituted a healthy diet before Oliver's dissection of a turkey twizzler. The issue was, and still is, one of poor procurement decisions by LEAs, who defined "best value" solely on the price. If LEAs ask for the cheapest possible service, rather than inviting nutritionally balanced food, that is exactly what they get.

Although I am not Jamie Oliver's biggest fan, I do recognise that he played a role in pushing better school meals into the public eye and this is important.

At the schools Dolce works with, I'm constantly reminded how much school meals matter, with teachers regularly commenting on how what a child has eaten at lunch can have an immediate effect on their behaviour, concentration and performance.

So how can we protect the quality of what is put on the plate in the face of cuts? Well, my first reaction is to think of that £60m and all the school meals that would buy.

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