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School PFI contracts ‘should exclude meals'

03 April 2006

Catering deals should be written out of Private Finance Initiative (PFI) school contracts, according to leading industry figures.

A majority of consultants believe caterers should be appointed by schools rather than building developers, given the Government's pledge to improve school meals.

Gary Stewart, managing director of Catering Management Consultants, said: "The idea that builders can decide on 25 years of catering in schools is farcical. Deals should be based on nutritional standards, not profit margins."

Richard Wedgbury, chairman of the UK Foodservice Consultants Society International, said: "It's horrendous. PFIs solve the Government's problem in the short term by raising the cash, but developers look to shave off money because they don't understand what's involved in providing a proper catering service."

Trade unions agreed that school food and PFI was an uneasy marriage. A spokesman for the GMB general workers' union said: "Fundamentally, it doesn't sit very well at all. The PFI should be left to build the school and not contract out the meal service."

But food service consultant Vic Laws disagreed. "Taking the catering out would give more flexibility to the school but misses the point of PFI, which is about long-term financial investment," he said.

Compass-owned Scolarest, where PFI deals account for 20% of its secondary school contracts, said not all deals were for 25 years, and those that were arranged over that time period were regularly assessed against performance targets.

A spokesman for building company Jarvis denied nutritional standards were a secondary concern at its PFI schools. "We are committed to ensuring that the catering standards within our PFI contracts specifically meet the special dietary requirements that children and young people have," he said.

By Tom Bill

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