Council officially rings the bell to mark the end of Cambridgeshire schools catering as heads given exit timetable

End of the road for schools catering provided by the county council. Here are some of the fruity cre

End of the road for schools catering provided by the county council. Here are some of the fruity creations from Heidi at Ely St John's. #TuttiFruityTuesday - Credit: Archant

School heads across Cambridgeshire were given official notice on Friday that from the end of October they must find a replacement operator if they currently use the county council’s catering service.

End of the road for schools catering provided by the county council. Summer menu - the last under th

End of the road for schools catering provided by the county council. Summer menu - the last under the current arrangements - Credit: Archant

Up to 700 people employed by the council can expect to be transferred to a new contractor. Alternatively schools could form local consortiums to deliver meals and workers could end up being transferred to these.

Diana Round, acting head of service, wrote to school heads on Friday to officially “give you formal notice of the termination of the catering services”.

Cambridgeshire Catering Services (CCS) is being wound up following a review by the commercial and investment committee..

Ms Round told heads: “As you are aware the service will cease trading in December 2018, and cease provision to schools on October 26. This will ensure that CCS has sufficient staff remaining in post to support schools in transitioning to a new provider.”

She said: “Any CCS staff employed in the catering service based at the school at that time will transfer to any new contractor, or alternatively the school, under TUPE legislation.

“CCS will consult with the affected staff about any possible TUPE implications once the school has confirmed who the new supplier will be.”

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Ms Round said the county council would help those interested in a clustering arrangement where a number of schools grouped together to deliver the service.

With three academy school dinner contracts lost in January, CCS lost 28 separate contracts in just two years.

Diamond Academy – with primary schools across Fenland and parts of Cambridgeshire – went elsewhere in January for three contracts bringing the total now held across the county to 171. In 2015 the council had 202 contracts. This was despite the council winning three new contracts last September.

But it is not simply the lost contracts that are causing anxieties - , a mothballed £500,000 cook freeze unit has annual £80,000 lease/rates costs and there is a further £250,000 dilapidations cost to resolve before a 2020 break clause; the council in difficulty.

The CCS was also forecasting what it termed “an under recovery” of £240,000.

The commercial and investment committee rejected a suggested turnaround plan and decided to pull out of catering altogether by the end of the year.

Councillor Josh Schumann, chairman of the commercial and investment committee that took the decision to close during a confidential session, admitted times are tough.

”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,” he said.

“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.

“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.”

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