Cambridgeshire County councillors have agreed that the council should focus more on supporting schools to serve good, nutritious meals, and less on competing to provide them in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Members of the Commercial and Investment Committee (23 February) supported a recommendation which will see the council cease to be a provider of catering and cleaning service to schools by the end of 2018.

In recent years there has been a slow but steady decline in the overall number of schools receiving a catering service from Cambridgeshire Catering and Cleaning Services (CCS), from 202 contracts in March 2015 (54% of Cambridgeshire market for schools catering) to 174 contracts in November 2017 (46%). There has also been a steady decline in the number of sites receiving a cleaning service, from 125 in January 2009 to 79 in November 2017.

CCS also runs the staff cafe at Shire Hall and the café at Cambridge Central Library where alternative options are being discussed as part of transformation plans.

All affected schools and staff have been informed. CCS staff will be supported to find alternative employment, either with the supplier that takes over the contract to provide catering at the school in which they work or in other roles.

Councillor Josh Schumann, Chairman of the Commercial and Investment Committee, said, “We remain committed to supporting schools to fulfil their duty to provide balanced and healthy school meals and will help them to secure high quality and cost-effective catering with additional time and support dedicated to smaller, rural schools.

“CCS is well-regarded and has provided a good service to schools over the years but the market is becoming increasingly competitive. The introduction of Universal Free School meals for younger children made the market very attractive to commercial competitors, which resulted in a number of new entrants to the market. This put pressure on CCS who lost a number of profitable contracts. We have explored other options but the service simply can’t win enough new business to make it competitive, so we have taken the decision to pull out of this market by the end of 2018 giving schools and staff time to look at the range of options available to them in good time. During this period we will be working closely with all of our schools to ensure that the transition to a new provider proves to be successful and ensures that similar or improved meals are available to all children.

“The service is currently making a marginal return, however, we expect this to decrease over the next year, so we are taking this decision now to enable us to support schools with a smooth transition to new providers and withdraw from the market in a managed and considered way.

“We must, as a County Council, focus on areas where we can make the biggest difference to the people of Cambridgeshire and that means taking tough decisions about the areas in which we operate, particularly where we believe an equal or improved service can be delivered at the same time as we make savings which will ensure that we can support our most vulnerable adults and children throughout Cambridgeshire.”

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