The London Borough of Lewisham is situated in South East London and is a diversely populated borough. In parts of the borough there is a very ethnically mixed population experiencing high levels of economic and social deprivation which is reflected in the high number of school pupils eligible for Free School Meals whilst other parts of the borough are economically affluent at levels above the average for London.
Until 2009 the Lewisham School Meal Catering Contract had been operated by a multi-national commercial contractor who had won the exclusive contract 10 years previously in one of the first Private Finance Initiatives.
In 2009 the borough wide catering contract came up for renewal and a number of Lewisham Schools decided to opt out of this contract. These schools operated their own collaborative (or federation) to share best practice and resources on many matters. Two collaboratives plus a school acting on its own decided to join forces and appoint Educo to assist and fund the tendering and awarding of a new catering contract which Educo would thereafter help contract manage.
Although Educo work in many different ways with schools to support the Lewisham collaboratives, Educo’s approach to improving the quality and financial performance of the school meal catering is based around a three step interlinked process:-
- A clear specification of the catering service required by each individual school to ensure the right bespoke service.
- A thorough, competitive and OJEU compliant tender process to award the catering contract to a relevant, commercial catering company. Educo ensure the school is fully protected by the adoption of the Educo catering contract, setting out the relationship between the school and the catering contractor to ensure best practice for food delivery, service and financial procedures.
- Thereafter the partnership between the school, Educo and the caterer is ongoing with regular meetings to evaluate the meal and service developments for the duration of the catering contract. Educo also undertakes a monthly assessment of the school catering contract and regular on site audits of the service with follow up action plans to ensure the catering service remains alive, relevant and keeping well ahead of developing best practice.
Following a fully compliant tender the schools decided to award the contract to a single catering contractor, albeit that each school has its own bespoke catering contract, service and menu suitable to its unique needs.
The catering contract was awarded for an initial three years and has subsequently been rolled over for a further three years. At the outset of the contract, given the relatively low historic meal take up across the schools, challenging budgets were set for the new caterer
As we review the take up performance across the group of schools and boosted by the introduction of UFSM take up has improved to over 80% of schools roll. This means that since appointing a replacement catering contractor nearly 50% more pupils in these schools are now eating fresh, healthy, well-cooked school dinners in properly staffed and equipped kitchens.
There has also been a financial return to the schools through incentivisation clauses in the catering contract. The financial returns have been meaningful sums of money that have been re-invested in the schools’ catering facilities or elsewhere in the general budgets.