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Compared with school and hospital meals, prison catering doesn't exactly grab the headlines. That, however, has never stopped the winner of this year's Public Sector Caterer of the Year award from working with passion and energy to raise the standard of inmates' food.
Alan Tuckwood is the head of catering and physical education services for HM Prison Services. When he took over the catering position in 1997, the department was in a state of upheaval, with the catering provision in danger of being outsourced from the Prison Service.
Tuckwood, however, introduced a series of modernising reforms, and managed the switch over to devolved budgets, the arrival of government auditing and the implementation of new catering guidelines. The department today has increased its market share and, crucially, made itself financially viable in the face of increased commercial competition from outside.
Of his achievements, the judges praised his ability to get the job done in what is a very tough sector. "It's hard enough with budgets in the NHS, but in the prison service catering is even tougher," said judge Vic Laws, director of the AVL Consultancy. "And if there is trouble with food it can cause riots and worse - not a responsibility to be taken lightly."
As well as getting the finances and food in order, Tuckwood has also introduced initiatives to improve the opportunities available to the prison population. Inmates can now study for catering NVQs, so they are better qualified for finding work on release. The scheme also produces better-trained cooks to prepare prison meals. "He is always looking for continuous improvement," said fellow judge Kevin McKay, group manager of catering at Nottingham City Council and chairman of LACA.
More recently Tuckwood was asked to take over the prisons' physical education department. Despite not having any experience in this sector, Tuckwood successfully inherited the team and integrated their work with his own to usher in a new approach to combining exercise, diet and health in the prison population. "What's so pleasing is that it was all put in place by a caterer," said Laws.
Tuckwood joined the Prison Service as a discipline officer in 1983 after working in several London hotels and running nightclubs. Those that know him confirm that he has always had a strong sense of discipline and determination. "He is absolutely committed," said judge Roger Kellow, government account manager at Hobart UK. "There's no shade of grey there."
Despite strongly held opinions, however, Tuckwood has proved that he has been a massive agent of change in the Prison Service. He has raised the profile of catering and won recognition of its importance to the wellbeing of the whole prison system.
The judges, who were unanimous in their verdict, also praised Tuckwood's influence in allowing other prison caterers to modernise in a way that would have never been possible before.
BOXTEXT: the Shortlist
\* Alberto Crisci, catering services manager, HMP Highdown, Sutton
\* William Cunningham, trust catering manager, Hull & East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust
\* Alan Tuckwood, head of catering and PE services, HM Prison Services
Derek Johnson, principal catering manager, catering section, Leeds City Council
Roger Kellow, government account manager, Hobart, and representative of NACC
Vic Laws, director, AVL Consultancy
Alison McCree, chairman, Hospital Caterers Association
Kevin McKay, chairman, Local Authority Caterers Association, and group manager, catering, Nottinghamshire County Council
Ron McKenzie, head of catering and housekeeping, County Durham and Darlington Acute Hospital NHS Trust
Katherine Murphy, director of communications, the Patients Association
Richard Wilson, director of nutrition and dietetics, King's College Hospital