Sandra Russell became chairman of school meals body the Local Authority Caterers Association (LACA) this month, just as school meals funding looks set to suffer under the chancellor's sharpened knife. Chris Druce spoke to her about the challenges ahead.
Caterer So you've returned to the role of chairman again
Sandra Russell Yes, I've been a member of LACA since its start in 1990 and was previously national chair in 2007/08. I had hoped to avoid a controversial year but it looks like that's not going to happen.
Caterer The School Meals Grant ends next March. What happens if there's no more money?
SR My own Warwickshire region [where Russell is head of catering] saw a downturn in school meals following Jamie Oliver's campaign and ended up running a deficit. We've now built the service back up, and in percentage terms are where we were before the TV programmes. [If there's no more funding] all the hard work of the past few years could be undone.
Caterer Ahead of next week's spending review it's been leaked that the School Food Trust will lose its funding. What effect would this have?
SR The trust has worked tirelessly to implement the Government's agenda. It has also provided an advisory service during a period where there have been a lot of questions and concern. LACA has always tried to find common ground and has worked closely with the trust, while agreeing to disagree on certain issues. However the time has come to let school caterers continue to take the service forward based on the solid foundation that the trust has helped build.
Caterer What risk does the spending review on 20 October carry for school meals?
SR A potential risk factor is that the previous Government said future school meals money might get rolled up into the main schools grant. If it's no longer ring-fenced and times are tough, schools might spend the money elsewhere.
Caterer Child benefit is to be cut from 2013 for middle income families. Will this affect the service?
SR On its own I don't think it will affect school meals uptake but if there's a range of benefit cuts in the spending review and parents' income is diminished it could become an issue, especially as parents don't tend to price up the cost of packed lunches in quite the same way [as school meals], as it's lumped in with their main weekly food shopping.
Caterer Overall you sound optimistic about the future
SR The investment we have had in the service has been most welcome, although it has probably replaced no more than 10% of what was taken out [from the late 1980s on]. We now have a firm base to build upon.
● Caterer will be taking a detailed look at LACA, its history and achievements next week (22 October issue) as it celebrates its 20th anniversary.