Jamie Oliver sounds alarm over school dinners funding
Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has pleaded with David Cameron not to cut spending on school dinners and said wielding the axe would go against what “every sane parents knows.”
Oliver said he was concerned about investment in school meals and likened the amount of government cash spent on the sector to the monthly marketing budget of a crisp manufacturer.
Oliver was speaking to the Birmingham Post on the day of the Comprehensive Spending Review and a week after the School Food Trust (SFT), set up under Labour following the chef’s school dinners campaign, lost its Government funding during a cull of quangos. The trust will continue as a charity.
Oliver said he was waiting to find out how the new-look SFT would work and revealed he is to hold talks with Education Secretary Michael Gove and Health Secretary Andrew Lansley in the next few weeks.
Oliver, who is to open a new restaurant, Jamie’s Italian, in Birmingham next month, said: “The School Food Trust has just been rolled up. It has been turned into a charity. I think they were only putting in about £5 million a year. How important are school dinners? And what is the gross cost of school dinners? It is in the billions a year.
“And yet the one organisation, that admittedly was a Government quango, that was supposed to be pushing for standards and communications was probably given less than Walkers Crisps spend on marketing in a month.”
Oliver said the trust, formed in 2005 as “an under-funded glimmer of hope”, had “great people” but “they never really got their information into all the schools.”
He added: “That was partly because they never had enough money to do the job properly in the first place.
“If they [the Government] are rolling it up as a charity and are going to be strategically trying to create more communications and better school dinners then I amhappy.
But if it is just being rolled up and nothing else is happening then that’s not particularly supporting what every sane parent in the country knows which is if you feed a kid a good breakfast and a good lunch they learn about 10-11 per cent better. We as a state are responsible for at least half of a child’s nutrition.”
Asked if he was concerned, the chef said: “I am very concerned about the support of dinner ladies, the investment and focus on what we feed our kids twice a day, 190 days of the year, from the age of four to 18 being an important part of the health of our kids.”
Oliver said his new restaurant at the Bullring had cost £2 million, had a £400,000 kitchen and was led by an ex-Army chef.
“If you go into a Birmingham secondary school it’s got 1,400 kids, of which half are having a hot meal.
‘‘Nine times out of 10 you haven’t got a £400,000 kitchen. They haven’t got the equipment they need to really rattle it out. Cooking good food on a cheap budget for large amounts of kids is not rocket science. It just needs someone to run it, own it and have a budget that can make the system break even.”
Oliver said his plea to the Prime Minister was the same as it had been to previous Labour administrations: “It’s can we invest in a high-level, robust system that can support our great dinner ladies and cooks to deliver what they can do but probably, don’t have the means to every day?
“It requires someone to run it. It requires investment. It requires simple economic forecasts and a belief that the few pounds per kid extra a year will in the long run save hundreds and hundreds of pounds.”