Closure of schools meals service in Luton will lead to 17 job losses

Councillors approved implementing the closure of the service

Friday, 6th November 2020, 12:46 pm
Updated Friday, 6th November 2020, 12:50 pm

The planned closure of the school meals service in Luton will lead to 17 redundancies, a meeting heard.

The current arrangements are set to end from April 1st because of the borough council's "significant budget deficit", according to a report to its administration and regulation committee.

The local authority's financial problems emerged during the pandemic and its impact on London Luton Airport, leading to a drop in passenger revenue.

Luton Town Hall

"An estimated cost of £114,000 is anticipated, which will be funded by the central redundancy pot," said the report.

"There are also savings of £550,000 through a reduction in council overheads and support service costs."

Senior education officer admissions and planning Deborah Craig told the committee: "Councillors are recommended to approve implementing the closure of the school meals service.

"This is necessary because of the council's financial position," she said. "The proposals were shared with the staff in August.

"Formal consultation with trade unions GMB and Unite the Union began on September 1st and concluded on October 15th.

"It's our expectation that staff in school kitchens will switch to alternative providers, although one community service is considering taking the service in-house.

"Staff will continue to be employed by the council, but will be managed locally by the school in its delegated budget.

"Employees facing redundancy will be placed on the redeployment list and have the chance to apply for other suitable alternative roles."

Labour South councillor Paul Castleman said: "I'm coming from the viewpoint of the unions.

"In going through the report, it's either 17 compulsory redundancies or later on it's 111.

"I'm surprised. Yes, you've met with the unions. There's nothing whatsoever in the report which will give me comfort."

The education officer replied: "The 111 mentioned in the report relates to the number of kitchen staff working in Luton schools.

"Our expectation is they will switch over to a new provider of school meals.

"The group at risk of redundancy is our mobile team of kitchen staff, of whom there are nine, and our central team of eight.

"A couple of our mobile team have secured alternative employment at other schools already, so that helps a bit.

"This reduces it down to 15 potential redundancies. We hope we can redeploy some of those staff."

Liberal Democrat Stopsley councillor David Wynn asked, if the service is closing, "how would the legal obligation to provide meals be met?"

The education officer acknowledged that, saying: "You're right schools are responsible for providing meals, but they don't need to through the borough council.

"They can choose to have another provider to produce their school meals or they can take the service in-house.

"It's not a statutory duty of the council," she explained. "A number of providers are in this market and could take on this role.

"We've offered schools a procurement service to help ease then into a new way of working.

"We've had ten schools take us up on that option and we're out to tender at the moment.

"We'll do our best to secure a good option for those ten schools.

"Governors are responsible for the provision of school food and we've offered to help them in that procurement exercise."

Councillors approved implementing the closure of the school meals service.