07 October 2021

Lib Dems and Labour criticise Government after schools face food disruption

07 October 2021

The Government has been accused of “failing” schools after some faced food disruption a month into the new school year.

Sir Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, has written to Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi calling for him to urgently meet school caterers, school governors and local councillors to discuss the crisis after the party heard of “stark issues” with food shortages.

Labour’s shadow education secretary Kate Green accused the Government of “burying their heads in the sand” over supply chain issues which have led to petrol pumps running dry and empty food shelves.

It comes after one of the UK’s largest canteen suppliers confirmed it has “contingency plans in place” to ensure a good supply of meals remains for children across Britain but added that it was not facing shortages.

In his letter to Mr Zahawi, Sir Ed said: “Across the country, I have heard from Liberal Democrat councillors and schools about some stark issues with food disruption in our schools for our children.

“Parents have endured so much and worked so hard during the pandemic but it seems your Government has failed them yet again. The least you can do is ensure a hot meal at their school for their children.

“For months you and your fellow ministers have been warned about the effects the shortage crisis could have on our economy and our everyday lives, now we see this reality coming true. For you to not have this on your radar is both surprising and a shocking abduction of leadership.”

Empty shelves are seen in the meat aisle of a supermarket two weeks ago (Peter Byrne/PA) (PA Wire)

Ms Green has called for a plan to recruit and train more HGV drivers to ease the supply issues, adding: “No school must be left without the food supplies it needs, and no child left going hungry.”

The pair highlighted a report from ITV news, which claims it has seen an email from catering services firm ISS to school staff urging them to “top up on long life, dried, tinned and frozen products to ensure that there will always be some form of food available in a worse case scenario”.

The broadcaster states the email was sent a week ago.

In a statement, ISS said: “Our priority is always the schools, and the children, whose meals we provide.

“We would like to reassure parents and carers that our ability to continue to provide nutritious school meals is not being impacted by the well-publicised shortages of items that the UK is currently experiencing.

“Naturally, we have contingency plans in place to ensure that a good supply of meals remains in place. That contingency planning includes regular communication with our stakeholders during these challenging times for many schools across the country.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, said the union for head teachers was “concerned” about the disruption some schools were facing with supply chain issues.

“We’re not hearing widespread disruption from our members but certainly the Government does need to take notice of the individual cases that are occurring so that the problem doesn’t become more widespread,” he told the PA news agency.

A Government spokesperson said there was “no evidence” to suggest widespread supply issues and schools have flexibility to substitute products if particular ingredients are not readily available.

They added: “We routinely consider contingency arrangements and expect schools and catering companies supplying them to do the same.

“In the event of any disruption to supply, we will work with councils and the sector to ensure warm, nutritious meals can continue to be provided.”

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