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Spring Seminar hears of threat to UIFSM

LACA spring business seminar stephen forster
LACA chair Stephen Forster
10 Mar 2020
School caterers have been alerted to a threat to the continuation of Universal Infant Free School Meals, and urged to stand ready to support action to defend the scheme.

LACA chair Stephen Forster told delegates to the Spring Business Seminar there were ‘rumours and speculation’ about the end of universal infant free school meals (UIFSM).

He told delegates in Stratford on March 5th that there were clear benefits to pupils, schools and parents from the free school meals available to all primary children up to the age of eight.

In fact, LACA had made a submission to HM Treasury ahead of the Budget (March 10th) asking for the UIFSM price to be increased from the current £2.30 to £2.51.

Forster said that although there was an argument the price should be higher, he believed LACA’s proposal was a ‘sensible’ increase.

Victoria Morgan of Oakhill Communications gave a political update and also mentioned the threat to UIFSM, though she said any action by the Government was more likely in the autumn comprehensive spending review.

Forster added that the LACA board had agreed he should stay in place for a extra year as chair until 2021 to help cope with the enormous range of challenges facing school caterers.

Jessica Crane from Chartwells, who has helped lead the LACA Allergens Project, reported that the guidance they have been working on is set for a May launch.

The project has generated two documents, a seven-page National Guide for Managing Allergens and a Risk Analysis Process Tool.

The guide, which is now with the Department for Education awaiting its endorsement, ‘will support’ school caterers in handling allergen issues, while the tool aims to ‘help them assess risk in particular cases’.

She said: “We want caterers to use this to reinforce your policies and to support communication with pupils, parents, teachers and governors.”

Northumbria University academics Professor Greta Defeyter and Professor Iain Brownlee spoke to the seminar about their current research paper into the value of school meals.

Prof. Defeyter said school caterers should remind themselves that they are developing the future workforce of the country, not simply ‘putting food on plates’.

As such, she said, school meals should be seen as an investment in human capital.

She added: “I’m often asked which is more important, breakfast or lunch? My answer is always, that you need both. If you’re hungry then you will not perform well at school, the science shows it.”

Her action points for schools were to make sure that measures of social value and human capital were included in catering contracts, and ‘value your school cooks’.

Professor Brownlee told delegates that 30% of total energy intake for the day came from lunch, and that alternatives to a school lunch were in most cases inferior.

“Skipping a meal altogether or heading off-site to get, in all likelihood fast food or snacks high in sugar, salt and fat were obviously worse.

“The other option is to bring in a packed lunch, but surveys have consistently shown that only about 2% of them meet the current School Food Standards.”

The idea of including social value in procurement was then taken up by Helen Kerrigan, commissioning manager for Newcastle City Council, who explained how the principle was used to drive investment in the city.

“It’s not an add-on,” she said, “But a way of considering our people in everything we do by using local knowledge. That means looking at value, which is a lot more than a pound sign.”

The presentations and slides from the National Seminar are available for LACA Members to view here.