Headlines: December 9th, 1998

The National Audit Office says school meals providers need to follow a series of business-focussed exercises if they’re to offer best value for money.Its report on the management of catering in grant maintained schools has special relevance, coming as the Government has announced it is to delegate provision and funding of school meals to the governing bodies of all locally maintained secondary schools.

The NAO says managers of the service should have a clear catering strategy, including clear financial and performance objectives, in order to decide whether to provide the catering service themselves or contract it out.

It says that formal contracts should be used with outside suppliers and service level agreements with in-house providers as a recipe to ensure improvements in service quality and an appropriate sharing of any financial benefits between the schools themselves and the provider of the service.

It also says full management information is required showing the full cost of catering, including overheads and the full extent of income, including notional free and paid meals subsidies; and the monitoring of contractors’ operating statements/invoices against budgets and targets.

There are ideas on improving customer-flow, having a charging policy that takes into account local alternatives, and regular surveys of pupils and staff eating the food.

Further details are available on the National Audit Office website at: www.open.gov.uk/nao/pn.htm