Saul Cooke-Black, local democracy reporter
Newport council has defended its use of a catering company which has been roundly criticised for its food boxes delivered in place of free school meals in England.
The council said there was “a high level of satisfaction” with the service provided by Chartwells in the city and has recently awarded it a new 10-year contract.
Free school meals supplier Chartwells was forced to apologise after concerns about the standards of its food parcels which were described by footballer and campaigner Marcus Rashford as ‘unacceptable’.
A photo showing a measly parcel given to a family in England has been shared thousands of times on Twitter and contrasted by some to a package provided in Caerphilly which was praised.
As Nation.Cymru revealed yesterday, Newport council signed a contract with Chartwells in 2010 and has recently awarded it a new contract to provide school meals, which starts in the new financial year.
However, the council is currently providing vouchers to parents and carers of children eligible for free school meals during term-time and the holidays, to give them choice over meal options rather than sending food parcels.
A spokeswoman for Newport council said: “There is a high level of satisfaction with the service provided by Chartwells and representatives from secondary and primary schools were on the evaluation panel during the tender process for the new contract.
“All were satisfied with the standard, quality and choice of food provided by Chartwells and had no reservations about awarding the contract which starts in the new financial year.
“If any concerns or issues have been raised by pupils or parents they have been fully investigated and resolved by the council and the company.
“The council’s contract with the company includes the requirement to meet the Welsh Government’s quality standards for all school meals and is subject to ongoing monitoring in relation to quality and value for money.
“We work closely with Chartwells to ensure standards are maintained across the school estate.”
Cllr Carmel Townsend, the council’s Liberal Democrat group leader, has called for a report to be presented to councillors after concerns about provision in England surfaced.
“I am hugely disappointed that this company is used by Newport council, and even more concerned that they have been given a ten-year contract to deliver this,” she said.
“I call on the council to urgently deliver a report to us as councillors, detailing steps they will take to ensure good quality and quantity of food.
“Children should never be expected to live in hunger, and schools have a right to expect high quality nutritional food.”
Chartwells apologised for any instance where food parcels did not meet its “high standards”, and said it will ensure lunches reflect the additional allowance of £3.50 per week per child provided by UK government.