Education secretary ‘absolutely disgusted’ by contractor’s school-meal parcel

Gavin Williamson says DfE will name and shame firms not delivering against its standards as voucher scheme is reintroduced
Parliament TV

By Jim Dunton

13 Jan 2021

Education secretary Gavin Williamson has spoken of his anger at a photographs of a food parcel provided by a government-funded contractor that was intended to take the place of free school meals during the latest coronavirus lockdown.

Williamson told MPs on the Education Select Committee today that he had been “absolutely disgusted” by one of the images circulated on Twitter and that from next week the national voucher scheme for children entitled to free school meals would be reintroduced.

The education secretary said that it would remain up to schools to decide how best to meet the needs of pupils entitled to free school meals, but insisted that DfE would “name and shame” contractors who did not meet acceptable standards.

Referring to a photo of a package produced by Chartwells (below), which is part of foodservice firm Compass Group, Williamson said he had immediately recognised its contents were inadequate.

“As a dad myself, I just thought how could a family in receipt of that really be expected to deliver five nutritious meals as is required,” he said.

“It’s just not acceptable. It’s been made absolutely clear to Chartwells – and to the whole sector – that that sort of behaviour is just not right, it will  not be tolerated. We will not live with that. 

“There are clear standards that are set there that they need to deliver against. If they do not deliver against them, action will have to be taken.”

Several other photographs taken by parents of the packages they have received from Chartwells are in circulation on the social-media site, many of which showed foodstuffs including cheese, ham and even tuna that had been opened, divided up and repackaged in ways that could significantly reduce their shelf life.

Williamson said minister for children Vicky Ford had been in contact with Chartwells on Tuesday and had made it “absolutely clear” that the firm’s offer was not acceptable. 

“They’ve apologised for this,” he said. “We will support any school that needs to take action against any contractor and we will name and shame any of those that are not delivering against the standards.”

Williamson told MPs  that the national food voucher scheme would be available to all schools from next week. 

The scheme, operated by Edenred, issued around 10 million vouchers to families entitled to free school meals last year. Schools did not have to participate in the scheme.

Williamson said schools could provide food to pupils in need through their existing contracts or set up local voucher schemes, which DfE would reimburse them for.

“It’s important that they have local flexibility,” he said.

A statement from Chartwells said the photograph of one of its food packages that had sparked concern had been a five-day supply of food that had been billed at £10.50. 

“In our efforts to provide thousands of food parcels a week at extremely short notice we are very sorry the quantity has fallen short in this instance,” the firm said.

“Our 10-day hampers typically include a wide variety of nutritious food items to support the provision of lunches for children.”

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