UPDATE - School meal provider ordered to cease trading by council officers vows to carry on

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A school meals provider operating across south Lincolnshire has been ordered to cease trading with immediate effect, meaning three Sleaford are primary schools and a day nursery will be without their meals in the morning (Tuesday).

Yesterday afternoon (Monday November 17), North Kesteven District Council served a Remedial Action Notice on the company Food 4 Thought GB Ltd. However, the company, now trading as UK Ideal, is claiming there have been administrative errors and it is doing nothing wrong.

This requires them to stop trading out of their premises at the Reedspire Industrial Units in Sleaford, from where they send out around 700 school meals daily, to the Sleaford and Lincoln areas.

Coun Richard Wright, North Kesteven District Council’s Executive Board Member with responsibility for Environmental Services said in a statement issued to the Standard in order to alert parents as soon as possible of the situation in order to make alternative arrangements: “After going into liquidation on November 4, Food 4 Thought has continued to supply meals to schools. But without the necessary approvals and licences being updated and in place, the Food Standards Agency has advised the council that the company cannot continue to operate.

“We are not saying that the meals themselves are unfit, but because it is operating without the necessary approvals, the company is breaking the law by supplying them.

“They are trading illegally and supplying meals to some of the most vulnerable people in society. In these circumstances the Food Standards Agency’s guidance is clear that we have to take action to stop them and indeed they have today advised us to do this as a matter of urgency.”

Local schools known to be affected are: St Botolph’s Primary School, Quarrington; St Andrew’s Primary School, Leasingham; Cranwell Primary School; Woodside Children’s Nursery, Sleaford; Redwood Primary School, Waddington; and Leslie Manser School, Lincoln.

The schools have been notified of this action and parents of children who receive their meals there are advised to make alternative arrangements for the time being and wait to be advised by the school.

Caroline Clark, company director of UK Ideal claims incorrect and misleading has been put out by the councils: “We would like to take the opportunity to confirm that whilst we believe there to be errors in the reported action, we have acted swiftly to the information. We are disappointed that the council contacted the press before our own board as the situation is highly likely to have been able to be resolved swiftly. Despite at this time being unable to hold any detailed conversations with the boroughs, due to officers not being available for comment, we will continue to attempt to foster communication and are hopeful of the situation changing, subsequently taking steps forward as soon as possible.”

She insisted the company will be continuing to deliver meals to school children at all schools contracted to the company. “We have clearly made this pledge to all parties, including the schools, county department and district level, therefore disappointed in the misleading release being made (and have requested that this is updated). For the avoidance of doubt this is a totally legal position and made possible thanks to the devoted staff and the additional kitchen facilities throughout the county.

“We are sorry if the incorrect information forwarded by the district councils has given any undue worries to schools and/or parents, but we remain resolute to continue to providing the best quality school meals throughout Lincolnshire.”

Tony Hill, Director of Public Health, said: “We have every sympathy for the children and parents who will be affected by the closure of this school food provider.

“The most important factor here is the health and education of the children. We are working to have urgent arrangements in place from Wednesday to provide all of the pupils affected with a cold lunch until such time as the current provider is allowed to resume their production.

“It is a matter of regret that we were notified too late of the decision to enforce these orders. This meant we couldn’t get a message out to schools before the end of the school day on Monday.

“We have sent out urgent emails to schools but if they can’t provide free school meals they may make the decision to partially close. We will keep everyone updated.

“The only issue of relevance is whether there is an imminent risk to the children. If so, then the notice to close makes sense. If not, then the timing and urgency of this action needs to be questioned.”

Headteacher at St Andrew’s School, Leasingham, David Hodgson said: “The school have been informed of this issue and will be making short term plans to make sure that as little impact as possible will be made on the children and the hot lunches we provide.” He said alternative provision was in place for yesterday (Tuesday).