Two East Devon schools pull plug on hot meals

Uplyme and Chardstock say their budget needs to be used to benefit all their pupils

HOT meals could soon be off the menu at two East Devon primary schools because they say they cannot afford them.

Mrs Ethelston’s in Uplyme and St Andrew’s in Chardstock say prices have rocketed since the county council outsourced school dinners to Devon Norse.

Now the schools are ending their contract with the company from April because they say it would cost them �50,000 over the next three years.

But hot dinners will be bought in for children on free school meals.

Andrea Rice, the executive head of both schools, said they were looking to manage their budget for the benefit of all the pupils.

“It’s not been an easy decision to make and was due to the financial situation,” she said.

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“It was a governing body decision and at the moment the governors are looking into alternative sources.”

Devon County Council outsourced the meals to Devon Norse, which it partly owns, in September and introduced increased costs, including a 12 per cent management fee.

A spokesman said all schools had been fully consulted about the changes.

“The national trend is clearly towards schools taking more responsibility for the services they provide,” he said.

“Funding is being devolved from local councils to school governors to enable them to make decisions locally.

In this case, the money Devon County Council had available has been shared between schools based on pupil numbers.”

Ray Beale, managing director of Devon Norse, stressed the company was not a charity and had to cover its costs.

He told The Herald: “We respect the schools’ decision to make whatever arrangements they want for meals.

“Prior to the service being transferred to Devon Norse, schools were not really aware what the costs were.

“It was a pooled budget and there were winners and losers so some that made money were supporting some of those who were not.

“The new system is more transparent and we can’t cross subsidise because we have a single contract with each individual school.

“Hitherto the county council subsided the catering service by around �3million per annum. A high percentage of this sum will be delegated to schools on a per-pupil basis and it is down to the school’s local management decision to decide whether to use that for school meals or not.”

A statement was issued today (Tuesday) by the Gorvernors.

It reads: “It is with huge regret that the Governors of Mrs Ethelston’s Primary School in Uplyme, and St Andrew’s Primary in Chardstock have had to notify parents that they will not be renewing their catering contract with Devon Norse and that the existing hot meals service will cease at the end of March.

“Along with many other schools in Devon, the Governors have been forced into this position by the removal of subsidies by Devon County Council and the high charges being made by Devon Norse, which took over the contract at the start of September. These include increased costs for staffing, energy and management, which neither school can sustain given that the service is running at a loss and has to be subsidised by each school budget.

“In order to ensure continuity of the service, we would be obliged to sign a 3 year contract with Devon Norse and the company will not confirm the increases we might be exposed to within the next three years.

“We are continuing to investigate ways of providing hot meals at both schools but so far we have not found another catering company to take over. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that a solution will be found in time for the summer term, but the Governors are hoping that we will be able to reintroduce hot meals in the future.

“This decision has been extremely distressing to everyone involved, and we would like to reiterate that we are exploring every avenue possible in order to be able to provide this popular service.”

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