Lies, damned lies and press releases

New School dinners at Osidge school,southgate.Todays meal

The Commercial & Investment Committee at the County Council has gotten itself responsible for all of the Council’s ‘traded services’. These are businesses which it runs and earns revenue for providing services to third parties. It seems to have adopted a macho attitude to these businesses and to relish putting them though a star chamber like inquisition.

One of these businesses is Cambridgeshire Music which has featured in earlier posts. Another is Cambridgeshire Catering and Cleaning Services (CCS) which supplies such services to schools. It’s a legacy of the time when county councils ran education and it was responsible for all the running of schools including cutting the grass (a traded service which has already been shut down), cleaning the windows and feeding the pupils, and, nowadays, providing IT support.

At its meeting last Friday the C&I Com agreed to exit the catering and cleaning services businesses. It’s been steadily losing market share, it has higher unit costs than competing providers and although it offers a premium service it is unable to command a higher price for it. I accept the business logic and support the decision.

However there is a twist. The ‘premium’ service is better, healthier meals and in today’s climate of an obesity epidemic the ability to influence eating habits through school meals is a positive. Unfortunately school budgets are very, very squeezed so individual schools, most of which are already academies, are reluctant to spend any more in school meals than they have to. That’s why CCS can’t get a higher price for its healthier offering.

This was noted at the meeting and there was some debate about running this decision through the Health and Children’s Committees first. Or of at least allowing them to consider actions to mitigate its impact. The Lib Dems spoke in favour of this as did Labour. Sadly a related vote went against as the Tories, including the Chair, voted en bloc against.

Which brings me to the press release. Click here to read it but note the first sentence:

‘Cambridgeshire County councillors have agreed that the council should focus more on supporting schools to serve good, nutritious meals, and less on competing to provide them in an increasingly competitive marketplace.’

This implies a debate along the lines of ‘we’ve got a budget to spend. Should we spend it on providing school meals or on giving advice to schools on how they should go about providing them’. It was nothing of the sort. It was a straightforward business decision about whether or not to allow CCS to continue to operate. Check the papers.

There was a chance of course. The issue of quality and its importance did come up but the Tories voted against action to factor this into the process whereby the business would be closed down.

Good decisions are based on facts and for clearly defined reasons. This one was. Why pretend otherwise?

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