Since March, an area which has become more in the spotlight is school catering and free school meals. We currently have an inspirational national campaign led by Marcus Rashford MBE and it has been fascinating learning about him through this journey and I think we can all relate to his own mothers’ comment ‘Take pride in knowing that your struggle will play the biggest role in your purpose.’
As drb consultants, our role within schools has never been more crucial to the both the sustainability of school budgets and the quality of provision schools offer. An area which has been highlighted this term is school catering contracts. In the Summer Term there was significant uncertainty around billing by school catering providers. Both private and local authority providers, wrestled with the ever changing rules around furlough and Procurement Policy Notes (PPN).
There is some excellent guidance on PPNs and we would encourage every school to read this. It could save you money!
Where confusion has arisen is on the billing to schools, in particular what areas are being (not can be) charged for. Due to the different business models and set up of school catering, whether it is in-house, private provider or the local authority, the PPN guidance has been applied very differently by different providers. We have seen a range of billing practices from charging of full staff costs (even in cases of furlough) to the full charging of UIFSM funding. Due to it being guidance this has created a difference in billing with some staggering differences in amounts.
We have come up with a checklist for schools:
- Get a break down of the staff costs including any furlough offsets. Speak to the catering staff to find out if they were furloughed.
- Ask about the management costs and for which periods they have been applied (in particular look at any areas of inactivity).
- Find out about the mechanism for charging per pupil, if they are using this. Much discussion has been had on the ethics of charging on this basis even if there has been little or no uptake of meals.
- What additional equipment is being charged for? Many providers are using disposable cutlery. How does this compare with previous arrangements?
- Always go back to the original contact and before you sign anything new, check the small print. We have had quite a few contracts reissued with additional clauses.
Most providers will be responsible when billing but we have come across some instances where, when challenged, bills were reduced by several thousand, the largest one being over £10,000.