Council could stop delivering school meals and other catering services in house

By Jamie Waller, Local Democracy Reporter

Nottinghamshire County Council leaders will consider whether school meals and other catering should no longer be delivered in-house.

A group of councillors has recommended that some of its services – which are losing £2.5m every year – are delivered in partnership with a business or another council to save money.

The review covers school meals, the delivery of hot meals to vulnerable residents, grounds maintenance and other facilities management.

The recommendations to form a partnership were brought to a meeting on Wednesday (May 22), where chair Councillor Mike Adams (Con) said he hopes the cost of school meals would fall as a result.

However, Independent councillors labelled the idea “privatisation” which would lead to unhealthier meals for children.

The services have a turnover of £36m per year and are expected to breakeven – however rising food prices and inflation has put them on track for a significant loss on 2023/24.

The council’s Place Committee has spent several months speaking to some of the 1900 staff to determine the best course of action.

Councillor Scott Carlton (Con), the cabinet member for communities and public health, will now decide whether to accept the recommendations.

The services are discretionary, meaning the council doesn’t have a legal duty to provide them.

Cllr Adams said after the meeting: “A partnership will allow us to keep a full hand in running the services, whether it’s with another local authority or an external business.

“We can work together to get a better outcome using economies of scale. The services are losing us £2.5m a year.

“It’s really important this council becomes fit for the future. This is the best option to protect staff.”

He said that there was “nothing more important” than the health of schoolchildren and elderly residents who used the services.

However, Councillor Tom Hollis (Ind) argued that it should be kept in house, with savings made to prevent losses.

“[A partnership] is a recipe for sub-standard service, and misses the entire point of school meals – the wellbeing of children,” he told the meeting.

“Private companies won’t put that first. In-house catering services ensure that schoolchildren are given healthy, nutritious meals.”

He feared that a private would only serve “pizzas, burgers and chips”, or would cut portions to save money.

Other options that were discounted by the group were exiting the market completely, outsourcing and transferring the services.

The report was approved by seven votes to three, with Independent members opposing it.

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