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Date 15 November 2006

UNISON calls for councils to be allowed to offer Free School Meals

UNISON, the union that represents school meals staff, today called for an amendment to be introduced into the Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) Bill to allow enable local councils to introduce free school meals in their area.

In addition the union in its evidence to the Communities Committee today, called for nutritional standards to be set across the public sector in a ‘Food for Good' programme of action, and for both PFI/PPP schemes and Best Value Reviews of services should take the quality and nutritional value of school meals into account, without price being the key factor.

UNISON Scottish Organiser, Dave Watson said: "The experience of Hull City Council's Eat Well, Do Well initiative and their piloting of free school meals in primary schools has increased the take-up of healthy meals from a low of 36% to 64% in three years, and this shows that similar pilots in Scotland could have a major impact on the health of our children., and in the long term be a financial saving.”

UNISON also restates its commitment to the longer term aim of universal provision of Free School Meals and has supported previous bills to introduce this, but the union sees this amendment as an opportunity to take a step down this road and introduce initiatives that can test out the effectiveness of this innovation.

The union - that produced a Food for Good charter back in 2003, calling for food to be sourced locally and with organic options - points out that East Ayrshire Council has been providing organic and local food successfully for some years within EU procurement rules.

Dave Watson said "We want to initiate a culture of healthy eating. There are a number of Scottish Executive initiatives like ‘Hungry for Success' which our members have successfully implemented. Now we need to extend these across all departments to establish a culture of healthy eating. Schools are key to this.”

The union also points out that the operation of PFI/PPP contracting has meant councils concentrating on cost rather than quality, in some cases outsourcing its school meals service and contractors threatening to cut corners in building school kitchens.

Dave said "The inflexibility of PFI/PPP contracts cannot be allowed to interfere with education and health strategies. The School Meal Service should not be considered simply as a commercial trading activity. Price should not outweigh, quality and nutritional standards.


Notes for editors: UNISON's written evidence to the committee is on our website,www.unison-scotland.org.uk/response/schoolnutrition.html - as is 2003's ‘Food for Good' Charter. http://www.unison-scotland.org.uk/healthcare/chefs/charter.html

For Further Information Please Contact: Dave Watson (Scottish Organiser) 0845 355 0845 (w) 07958 122 409 (m) Chris Bartter (Communications Officer) 0845 355 0845(w) 0771 558 3729(m)