Headteachers in Wiltshire have panned Sodexho for the quality of its school meals.
Wide-ranging concerns were raised by 119 school headteachers as part of an inquiry by the county council's scrutiny committee into the contract caterer's school operations in Wiltshire.
The committee, which publishes its final report at the end of April, found that 85% of headteachers rated the nutrition content between average and very poor; 75% ranked the food quality as average to very poor; while 78% also thought the menu range was between average and very poor. Overall, 10% of heads said they would leave the contract if possible.
Scrutiny committee officer Helen Ashworth said that worries were raised shortly after the French-owned caterer won the seven-year contract in June 2001. "Some schools expressed concerns about the poor-quality and unhealthy food, while others thought there would be more investment in kitchens and new equipment."
Sodexho acknowledged the problems, but outlined concerns of its own. Alan Bowley, Sodexho contract director for Wiltshire County Council, said: "The council originally told us that 170 schools were due to enter the contract, but we only had 119.
"The contract is now into its fourth year and we are still operating at a deficit. As a result we have had to reduce our investment."
Neil Baker, headmaster of the 400-pupil Christchurch primary school in Bradford-on-Avon, believes that schools pulled out of the contract only because investment in kitchens wasn't forthcoming. "Sodexho changed the terms of the initial contract and no money was set aside for kitchens."
He believes that many of the 119 schools are unaware that they haven't signed up to the original contract.
"I'd love to see 80% of our children eating a hot meal, but the company has to get more people eating its food before it can make money," Baker added.
Source: Caterer & Hotelkeeper magazine, 24 February 2005