Bid to scrap hot meals service will leave schools struggling to feed pupils, warns union

Budget press conference at The County Hall.'Names l-r:  Bill Parker, Jim Harker, Paul Blantern. ENGNNL00120131012160649
Budget press conference at The County Hall.'Names l-r: Bill Parker, Jim Harker, Paul Blantern. ENGNNL00120131012160649

A union leader believes Northamptonshire County Council’s plans to scrap the Nourish meals service will leave many schools struggling to feed pupils once the plug is pulled.

Last week the county council announced proposals to slash £77 million from the 2016/17 budget by making huge cuts to adult social services, the fire and rescue budget and shutting two Olympus care homes.

The authority says 343 jobs could be at risk, with 288 of those coming from plans to axe the Nourish school meals service.

The service provides meals to primary and secondary school children for under £3 a time, but the county council says axing the service could save up to £662,000 in the 2016/17 year if it is closed down in July.

Branch secretary for Northampton’s unison branch Steve Bennett, said: “A lot of schools don’t actually have the facilities for school meals and they have limited time to get them in place now.

“Some parents have drug or alcohol problems and that school dinner is the only nutritional meal they get a day.”

Mr Bennett, who is representing a number of the 288 Nourish staff staring at redundancy, many of whom are part time, said they are going through a difficult time.

“It’s a terrible experience for them,” he said. “A lot of these people are part time, they want to just go to work and enjoy that working environment. Many of them love their jobs because they love working with the kids.”

Chief executive Dr Blantern said schools using Nourish currently would be helped to find new school meals providers or set up their own schemes.

Currently more than 160 primary schools alone use the service and many of those that the Chron spoke to said they would look to find a new provider from the next school term.

A spokeswoman for Bridgewater Primary School, one of those affected, said: “We are disappointed for our hard working Nourish staff. But we are working pro-actively now to create our own kitchen facilities.”

But Mr Bennett believes many schools will struggle to have cooking facilities or a new provider in place for the start of the new school year.

He said: “We think it is disgusting cutting this and we believe the funding should be found. But the problem is the Government funding the council receives isn’t sufficient.”

Mr Bennett said Unison will be encouraging the affected Nourish staff to take part in the consultation over Northamptonshire County Council’s budget proposals, running until January 19.

The county council says the need for swingeing cuts are a result of having to deal with extraordinary pressures on its services.

Since the start of the school year – there have been almost 900 children arriving in the county who need a school place.

That equates to a primary school’s worth of children every three months.

Population is set to grow by up to 60,000 people in the next five years.