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LACA – from the beginning

21 October 2010 by

Since its launch in 1990, LACA, the Local Authority Caterers Association, has come a long way. It now represents 750 catering managers and has been central to the post-Jamie Oliver efforts to reintroduce meal standards in schools. Chris Druce looks at a potted history of the country's largest provider of school catering.

Officially launched in 1990 by five local authority caterers from the ashes of NASMO (National Association of School Meal Organisers), the Local Authority Caterers Association (LACA) is in rude health. It has grown to represent 750 catering managers in local authorities, private contractors and individual schools who provide school meals services within primary and secondary schools in England, Wales and Scotland. (The Northern Ireland region is currently dormant).

LACA has 400 associate members who are jointly responsible for the supply of over £425m worth of food, drink, equipment and services to the school catering sector. A total of 135 local authorities are represented in the membership, which means 80% of the nation's catering service is provided by LACA members, equivalent to three million lunches served every day in 22,000 schools. It makes the network by far and away the country's largest provider of school catering.

The company's mission statement reads: "LACA aims to set high standards of professionalism in local authority catering; to be the lead consultative body to the Government on all aspects of school food and in delivering healthy eating policies and to equip local authority caterers with the necessary skills, knowledge and support which will enable them to meet the changing demands in the industry."

To this end the organisation has been a central plank in the post-Jamie Oliver efforts to reintroduce meal standards in schools with the introduction of food-based standards in primary and secondary schools in 2006.

This culminated in the nutrient-based standards, which came into force in September 2008 at primary schools in England and in 2009 at secondary level (due to devolution, Scotland's school caterers have to meet the standard laid out in Scottish Nutrient Standards for School Lunches and in Wales Appetite for Life).

As one industry insider explains: "LACA has had the ear of successive governments and in terms of political and press coverage has been more successful than any other organisation I can think of, especially within the catering sector."

LACA has, when necessary, also been a ready and able critic of official policy, most recently those nutrition plans, voicing the frustration of caterers left to accomplish a huge task with relatively slight resources against an initial backdrop of declining meal uptake, and arguing that the changes were happening too quickly, especially at secondary level, and placing the future of the service at risk in a bid to appease voters.

Certainly its recent annual conferences have been as comprehensive as ever, while demonstrating the frustration of delegates who feel abandoned and left to get on with a difficult task that Labour in its last days in power deemed completed, and the newly elected coalition Government currently shows little appetite for.

In 2006 LACA even moved into TV, with an advert broadcast in the run-up to National School Meals Week (see page 54 for more on this year's event) to improve perceptions of the service in the wake of negative publicity after Jamie Oliver's championing of the issue.

The organisation's long-running campaigns and competitions, such as LACA School Chef of the Year and National School Meals week, have significantly raised the standard and showcased the very best in food the school meals sector has to offer, and its active calendar of 30 to 40 regional meetings a year, capped annually with its national conference and exhibition, have provided important networking opportunities to people often working in relatively isolated working environments.

LACA became a limited company in January 2009, appointing its first business manager (and first paid employee) Vicki Young, who joined from OCS, in October 2009. The move gave the organisation legal status and protection to its entirely voluntary council members who are now in effect directors of the incorporated company. Regardless, it's very much business as usual.

The organisation even offers qualifications in partnership with Kendal College and the Institute of Hospitality.


Towards the end of the 1980s subsequent Conservative reforms turned school catering on its head, culminating in the Local Education Act and start of Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT) at the start of the 1990s. Around the same time the National Association of School Meal Organisers (NASMO), a subgroup of the HCIMA (Institute of Hospitality) had its funding withdrawn.

Witt, who was head of catering at Cambridgeshire until retiring a few years back, got talking to the other members of the NASMO executive and in the autumn of 1989 they met at the then Moat House hotel at Crick on the M1.

Founder member Anne Lynd-Evans (Lincolnshire) remembers: Á¢Â€ÂœWe are a feisty lot, used to making decisions, and we were already geared up to win our CCT bids, so it did not take us long to work out a strategyÁ¢Â€Â. That saw Á‚£100 put in a pot and with Dorothy Gardener (Hertfordshire), Sheila Hayes (Cheshire) and Maggie Tiltman (Avon) rounding out the five (although there was soon support from many, many others such as Pat Fellows, Elizabeth Henderson, Etta Seward and Nan Berger), LACA was conceived.

In October 1990 LACA held its first conference at the Hilton International hotel at Gatwick and the organisation has never looked back. Lynd-Evans says: Á¢Â€Âœ20 years on I find it very satisfying that LACA is so vibrant and meeting every challenge Á¢Â€Â" all that time ago there were people who thought LACA would not survive even two years.Á¢Â€Â

Witt has also seen plenty of change in her time with LACA. Á¢Â€ÂœBack at the beginning it was about supporting our members in delivering the best possible services to schools. Today that hasnÁ¢Â€Â™t changed and as a profession we are still trying to do so, once again while facing an uncertain future. Ultimately itÁ¢Â€Â™s always been about making sure we continue to have a viable school meals service in our schools.Á¢Â€Â


This November LACA will be holding National School Meals Week (NSMW), as it has done since 1993, in a bid to press home the importance of the healthy school meals journey begun five years ago (a parallel week organised by Assist FM is being run in Scotland).

Events include BritainÁ¢Â€Â™s biggest school lunch, an invitation for the hotel and catering industry to get involved, and Fun Fridays. A range of materials can be downloaded from the school meals website and itÁ¢Â€Â™s free to get involved.

LACA has already written to the UKÁ¢Â€Â™s newly elected MPs, urging them to get involved with events going on in their local consistency, which, given the end of the School Lunch Grant next year against a backdrop of national cuts and austerity, means a successful, high-profile week is more important than ever.

In a forward-thinking move, the organisation embraced the digital marketing route for the week a few years back, with downloadable resources, video and social media.

Arnold Fewell, managing director of AVF Marketing, is managing NSMW on behalf of LACA and points out that teachers have a host of free resources at their disposal via the site, and that many of this yearÁ¢Â€Â™s themes such as Get Giggling Day and Get Supporting (which encourages tie-ups with the hospitality industry) can be used throughout the academic year.

Video highlights appropriate for school assemblies include HampshireÁ¢Â€Â™s Chewton Glen hotel team demonstrating how to lay out cutlery on a table, and how to make a healthy fruit smoothie." target="_blank" rel="noreferrer">](


National School Meals Week
8-12 November 2010

LACA School Chef of the Year 2011
Grand final May 2011
Entry deadline 29 October

LACA Conference 2011 6-8 July 2011

Finishing Touches 2011 7 July 2011
(Culinary display salon held at the conference)


In February of this year Caterer teamed up with LACA for School Meals Matter, a campaign to highlight the importance of maintaining funding for school meals, given the School Lunch Grant is due to end in March 2011.

With almost a quarter of three-year-olds overweight or obese (23.7%), a third (31%) of all children between the ages of two and 10 overweight or obese and more than a third of children aged 11-15 years (35.1%) overweight or obese, and obesity set to cost the UK economy Á‚£50b a year by 2050 if left unchecked, thereÁ¢Â€Â™s clearly an ethical and financial dimension to continued support for healthy school meals that shouldnÁ¢Â€Â™t be ignored.

You certainly agreed with Caterer editor Mark Lewis and previous LACA chairman Beverley Baker delivering a 4,400-strong petition to Westminster in August of this year.

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[SchoolÁ‚ dinners and the Jamie Oliver effect >>](

[LACAÁ‚ School Chef of the Year >>](

[BeverleyÁ‚ Baker on her two years at the helm of LACA >>](
[TheÁ‚ road ahead for LACA and the school meals service >>

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