UNISON, NUT and NASUWT are using their joint strength of over half a million members to campaign against the proposals alongside the Association of Direct Labour Organisations (ADLO) and the Local Authorities Caterers Association, which represent public and private school meal providers.
Keith Sonnet, UNISON head of local government, outlined the campaign group's opposition:
'Prices would rise, take up would fall, nutritional standards would be threatened and school meals subsidies vanish completely, this proposal is totally unacceptable. It is our strongly held belief that delegation is unworkable and undesirable; it would lead to confusion and is a recipe for disaster for school dinners.
The group believes that compulsory delegation of school meals budgets to individual schools would be a recipe for disaster because:
- the long awaited introduction of nutritional standards would be jeopardised due to the lack of school level expertise in running the service, and the impossibility of monitoring those standards across individual school contracts;
- the government's wish to reduce social exclusion may be frustrated. Local authorities' ability to target services at those groups vulnerable to exclusion depends upon services such as free school meals, not being fragmented via LMS delegation.
- head teachers, teaching staff and support staff are overburdened as it is and would not welcome the extra administrative demands of running the school meals service;
- caterers would lose economies of scale and with this would go a disincentive to invest in, or refurbish kitchen equipment. This could have impact on health and safety;
- economies of scale also make possible LEAs' standard school meal prices, and if these can no longer be delivered, smaller schools in particular will suffer;
- schools may be faced with the choice of either subsiding school meals from the delegated budget or reducing meal quality or putting up prices. Changing quality or price is almost certain to result in a fall in take-up;
- with the government suggesting that individual schools be exempt from the new duty off best value, what safeguards will be provided for the future quality of meals and for parents and children to have their say on school meals?
The groups will be encouraging their members to lobby MPs, education authorities and schools pointing out the pitfalls of delegation.