I suppose I was too optimistic, too naive in thinking this week’s National school meals week, would simply be an opportunity to encourage good food in schools, but sadly, it seems to have been hijacked by the desperate Liberal Democrats who are using it as a mechanism to promote their universal free school meal policy.
It really saddens me that they are politicising such a worthy project. It also frustrates me that some of those involved seem happy to be complicit in Nick Cleggs obsession with political survival. With the amount of coverage the Lib Dems have piggybacked on, I feel it is appropriate to highlight one of the major policy failings that still need resolving, the issue of monitoring and accountability which is effectively non-existent at the moment.
In England we don’t have any organisation empowered to monitor the quality of ingredients, the sourcing and sustainability, we don’t check on provision for allergies, healthiness, or that caterers abide by the standards. As far as I am aware, the only statutory checks are those undertaken by the local authorities’ environmental health departments on the school kitchen hygiene.
There are clear issues with the lack of accountability, absence of any overarching quality control, we don’t have the knowledge about what is being fed to our children both on a macro governmental level and a micro parental level. We seem happy to allow self-regulation and “the market” to regulate what is fed to our children
This isn’t an area we should allow any complacency, we have seen horse meat scandals, school food prepared in unhygienic conditions, we have seen beef labelled as halal lamb and criminal gangs are expanding into food fraud. The warnings are there to be seen and are clear, we must remain vigilant and we must formalise a process, particularly given the sudden expansion due to Universal infant school meals.
It seems DfE wish to depend on on some idealistic Laissez-faire solution reliant on the expectation that people are law abiding and all will be well with the world. I believe if you put in standards, firstly you should ensure they apply to all schools (including academies, see note 1) and secondly put in place a process to enforce the standards, otherwise what is the point?
The government have been warned, the School food plan recommended “all standards need to be monitored if they are to be effective” yet there is still no structure for doing any monitoring! The SFP states “what get measured gets done”, yet measuring, monitoring and enforcement is none existent. We seem happy to spend Billions on expanding school meals to all infants, yet we won’t spend money on ensuring quality, it is a shambles and needs sorting!
We need proper regulations and a supervisory body, even if it costs!
One of the issues the lib dems claim they will address if they get into power in the next parliament, is the way academy schools are exempt from the school food standards, which begs the question why didn’t they do it when changing the law to impose UIFSM in the first place?
I have no intention of having a general pop at academies, it is simply their funding agreements put them outside any easy regulation by ministers. In allowing academies freedom to innovate, in the case of nutritional standards, they appear to have thrown the baby out with the bath water. I am of the opinion that most school cooks, academy or not, are likely to comply with the regulations, I don’t see academies as some evil entity making our children fat, but there is clearly an anomaly. As it stands at the moment, many academies do not have to comply with any regulations, but to correct this would need require a renegotiation of every individual funding agreement.
The school food plan optimistically suggested the new standard apply to all schools before accepting this isn’t practical to have the proviso “where possible” acknowledging the fact that the secretary of state can’t pass any regulation, no matter how important, rules on existing academies.
If the Lib Dems have some clever new solution to this issue, I would like to hear it along with an explanation as to why it isn’t already in place, as it is, I suspect it is just more rhetoric.