West Berkshire Council

Agenda item

School Meals Contract


Ian Pearson introduced the item that aimed to update members of the Schools’ Forum on the situation with the Schools’ Meal Contract.

An oversight had been made and certain contracts had not been brought to the Schools’ Forum. The necessary conversations had taken place to ensure this issue would be resolved going forward.

Ian Pearson referred to the paperwork that had been circulated with the agenda, which included a letter from Andy Sharp, Executive Director - People and a presentation that had been provided to Headteachers over two meetings proposing a way forward with the schools meal contract situation.

The process was being led on by the Commissioning Team at West Berkshire Council. The contract had been due to end and a retendering process was conducted. Unfortunately, part of the way through, this process had gone wrong and subsequently abandoned due to the exploitation of legal challenge by other contractors.

Communications had been sent to schools to extend the current contract with an option to depart from the contract. Some schools had chosen to depart from the contract however, most had remained or were unsure. The issue was that Free School Meals had increased in cost by 40 pence per meal per day and schools had felt the increase was too steep to bear.

Following the push back from schools a new price increase of 5 pence per child was negotiated however, schools’ were still not satisfied with the increase as it would cost individual schools thousands of pounds.  At this stage the Council offered to subsidise the cost from September 2019 for a year. 41 schools had remained in the contract and seven had taken the decision to leave.

Many schools had expressed an interest in being involved in the re-tendering process. Ian Pearson stated that an acceptable way forward had been reached however, it was important to ensure the situation did not re-occur. The necessary contracts would be brought to the Schools’ Forum for discussion in future.

Reverend Mark Bennet thanked Ian Pearson for his explanation. He commented that for a fortnight many schools had felt angry and challenged about the situation. The timescale for Governors to make a decision had been particularly tight. Reverend Mark Bennet however, expressed that the position reached was acceptable. 

Reverend Mark Bennet felt that confidence in the contract might have diminished and effort to rebuild this confidence was required. There was the potential for costs to rise if this was not overcome. Ian Pearson agreed with this point. A survey had gone out to schools to collect information on the matter and the Executive Director – People, had offered face to face meetings with schools to obtain views.

Ian Nichol echoed the comments made by Reverend Mark Bennet and was conscious of the point that costs for schools could rise if confidence was not regained. He welcomed Governor and Headteacher involvement going forward.

Ian Nichol referred to the cleaning contract and noted that it would come to an end in July 2019. There had been a lack of clarity over re-provision and he asked for an update on the situation. Ian Pearson reported that the key point was there had been the ability to extend the school meals contract however, this was not the case with the cleaning contract. The previous provider had left and therefore an interim provider had been put in place. The Commissioning Team had advised that the interim provider would remain in place until the contract process went through the necessary cycle to find a successful bidder. Ian Pearson added that there was a smaller number of schools involved in the cleaning contract and there would also be the option to opt out.

Ian Nichol expressed that he was still unsure about the contractual process and so were schools. He welcomed further information from Commissioning colleagues. Ian Pearson confirmed that Commissioning colleagues were currently working with the current provider on the cost. Contact would be made with schools once more details were available.

Councillor Erik Patterson noted that other contracts besides the schools meals contract were not on the forward plan for the Schools’ Forum.  Ian Pearson confirmed that this would be updated in time for the next meeting.

Councillor Pattenden asked if changes to the way commissioning was conducted at the Local Authority in that there was a central team, had complicated matters. Ian Pearson stated that a restructure had placed commissioning expertise in one team to help add robustness. A further restructure was not required however, the approach to commissioning required further focus, particularly the interface between the people doing the work and schools. These issues would be picked up as part of the review being conducted by the Executive Director – People.

RESOLVED that the Forward Plan be updated with the relevant contracts that needed to be considered by the Schools’ Forum in October 2019.

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