Fact check: Romford Recorder gets it wrong over free school meals story

Published: Friday, 6 November 2020

Councillor Damian White, Leader of Havering Council, writes:

Today the Romford Recorder has published an article online which states that the Council’s School Meals Service charged schools for Free School Meals during the initial lockdown period and summer term. 

It is deeply disappointing that the Recorder has chosen to undermine public faith in our authority with this mis-leading article. 

This article wrongly implied that the Service is a ‘private entity’ or ‘company’ and was at risk of folding up. The Recorder also failed to provide the Council with the opportunity to respond their story.

It’s also important to say that this article has nothing to do with the Free School Meals offered during the October half-term.

This was paid for fully by the Council, with no costs passed on to schools or parents, to ensure that our most vulnerable children continued to get nutritious and healthy meals throughout the holiday period.

Havering Schools Catering Service, which supports 62 schools in the borough, is fully Council-run and not a private company as stated in the article.  

The service is completely funded through the income it generates and continues to operate as a viable operation despite the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Due to the significant impact of the pandemic on many private and public sector schools catering service providers, including ourselves, it was necessary to take these steps to reduce  the financial impact in order to maintain this vital service for our schools.  

Unlike many private sector companies providing school meals services who continued to charge schools the full price during this period, we opted to provide reduced priced school meals as the government’s policy allowed. 

During the lock down period and summer term, schools in the borough overwhelmingly acknowledged the responsiveness of the council’s School Meals Service in the way it adapted to the challenges they faced and how it provided effective support.  

Furthermore, as a gesture of goodwill, the service provided all staff meals and meals for keyworker children ‘free of charge’ during this period.  

The School Meals Service continues to provide nutritious and tasty school meals to children and young people in the borough.