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School meals require long-term investment

13 July 2006
School meals require long-term investment

Only a long-term cash commitment will produce lasting improvements in school meals, according to the Local Authority Caterers Association (LACA).

Speaking at the association's annual conference in Birmingham today, outgoing chairman Kevin McKay said there was clear evidence that the Government needed to boost spending and extend its current three-year plan beyond 2008.

"I am yet to be convinced that by September 2009 I will arrive at a morning break to see a bunch of 15-year-old lads enjoying their packet of sunflower seeds," he said.

Minister for children Parmjit Dhanda, who addressed the conference via a video link, hinted the Government was in for the long haul, but stopped short of any firm commitment.

He said: "The Government remains committed to taking the school food programme forward beyond 2008 and wants to work with LACA on how best to do that."

When questioned whether this commitment would translate into cash, a spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said it couldn't predict the outcome of the Government's spending review in 2008.

Simon James, managing director of Eden Foodservice (formerly Initial Catering), dismissed the three-year plan as too short. "We need a proper strategic long-term plan to know exactly where we're going and how we can undo the years of underinvestment," he said.

But McKay said there had been some real improvements, citing a significant shift from apathy to full engagement by head teachers and pupils in as little as six months.

"This clearly demonstrates to me we are heading in the right direction," he added.

McKay will be replaced as LACA chairman by Irene Carroll, currently national vice-chair and general manager of City Catering at Southampton City Council.

By Tom Bill

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