£150m catering equipment windfall for schools

The catering equipment sector yesterday received a massive boost after the government announced it would spend £150m helping infant schools improve their kitchen facilities to meet the new ‘School Food Plan’.

The news is expected to trigger a raft of upgrade projects and investments in standalone equipment, as schools ready themselves for the initiative by expanding their kitchen and dining facilities.

From September 2014, all infant children in state-funded schools in England will be entitled to a free school meal.

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Last year, the Deputy Prime Minister said £22.5m had been set aside to help small schools prepare. This announcement confirms that each small school will receive a minimum of £3,000 funding to extend or improve kitchen facilities, and address transitional costs, in addition to the £2.30 per child per day revenue funding.

This is a part of the £1 billion the government is providing so that every infant across the country sits down to a healthy meal during the day, as well as the £150m it has now revealed will be used to help schools expand their kitchen and dining facilities, where needed.

“With six months to go, we want to support and encourage all schools to step up their preparations and these extra measures will support them in doing so,” said Schools Minister David Laws, outlining the package yesterday.

He also revealed schools would receive additional support in the form of a national helpline, run by the Children’s Food Trust, to advise on issues, and a blueprint for setting up breakfast clubs in schools where children are coming to school hungry.

“Every child deserves the best possible start in life, and we know from pilots that children in schools that offer universal free school meals are academically months ahead of their peers and also more likely to eat vegetables at lunchtime instead of less healthy food like crisps.”

Laws said parents presently spend around £400 for lunches for each child every year and the free school lunches plan would “help ease the pressure on household budgets”.

The Department for Education is also launching a consultation to simplify school food standards in a bid to cut bureaucracy for schools.

The implications of the government’s funding proposals are already starting to trickle down into the market.

Swindon Council yesterday revealed it had received £360,000 from the government, which will now be used to pay for providing the facilities at all council-run primary schools.

Local media reported that a project team has been set up to analyse the needs of each school, which will include ensuring there is space for meals to be eaten and equipment, such as cookers and fridges.

“Large-scale work will not be needed in any schools as far as we can see, but some may need new or more equipment, such as cookers and fridges,” said Cllr Fionuala Foley, who stated the cash would be split among 35 schools.

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