Congleton: Council catering service lost almost £100,000 in a year

By Belinda Ryan - Local Democracy Reporter

6th Jul 2022 | Local News

There's going to be some cuts in kid's school meals to come. (Image - Alexander Greensmith)
There's going to be some cuts in kid's school meals to come. (Image - Alexander Greensmith)

Cheshire East is employing experts to review its schools catering service after it made a loss of more than £95,000 in 2021-22.

The service currently provides meals for 92 schools across the borough – this includes 86 primary, four special schools, one secondary and a pupil referral unit.

It also provides commissioned catering services to two adult care homes.

A report due to go before Monday's (July 11) meeting of the council's children and families committee states: "Over recent years, the year-end position of the schools catering service has seen an overall loss of revenue.

Cheshire East Council HQ in Sandbach.

"Previously, the service provided significant income for children and families directorate some of which was re-invested back into service delivery.

"There are numerous factors which have caused this overall change. The emergence of multi academy trusts (MATs) locally has seen some schools move away from the service and source alternative providers; this coupled with increasing staffing and food costs in particular, has placed pressures on the service to maintain its very high standards of delivery. The impact of the pandemic cannot be underestimated."

The report says it is not possible to accurately compare the 2021-22 loss of £95,219 to previous years because the impact of Covid has not allowed the service to operate at the capacity it was prior to the pandemic.

It continues: "It is positive to report that, based upon budget forecasting for the year 2021- 2022, the position was achieved where income was up by almost £70,000 at £5,340,368.

"This was offset by the increased employee costs of £174,213 compared to budget forecast; a fact explained by the significant need for having to provide additional staff coverage in schools where Covid rates were high and the need to keep schools open meant that additional hours were needed to maintain service delivery."

The service operates with a dedicated core team of 11 when fully staffed.

This includes an overall team manager, operation managers who liaise with schools on a daily basis in terms of quality assurance as well as an administrative team who oversee orders, marketing, and budget management.

Across the 92 schools, a little more than 300 staff are employed.

The council is now looking at paying consultants to review the service.

According to the report, the 14 day review is expected to cost £8,820 plus expenses.

The review will take place during the autumn term and the outcome will be considered by the council's children and families committee at its meeting in January.

While many schools in Congleton are academies, giving them more autonomous control than council-led schools, catering services are still commonly outsourced to those in association with the council.

The news follows national reports of schools taking beef off the menu to save money during the cost of living crisis.

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