Welsh Council renews £15 million contract with company at heart of free meal parcel controversy
A Welsh council is to pay at least another £15 million to the catering company that sparked controversy by providing “meagre” food parcels to disadvantaged families during confinement.
Nation.Cymru reported last month how Newport City Council outsourced catering for more than 50 schools to Chartwells in 2010 at a cost of over £20 million.
The education sector catering firm’s free meal parcels – the contents of which were Tweeted out by an enraged mother – were slammed by campaigning footballer Marcus Rashford last month.
Now a freedom of information request has revealed the cost of Newport Council’s decision in September to renew the contract until 2030.
It shows the Council will pay at least £1.35 million a year to Chartwells for the provision of free school meals, although the amount “will fluctuate throughout the life of the contract as it is based on the number of eligible pupils.”
The contract also involves a £164,000-a-year payment for breakfast clubs, taking its total value to at least £15.14 million over 10 years.
It means Newport Council will have paid Chartwells over £36 million by the end of the decade and the contract could be extended for a further five-year period without the need for a new procurement process.
The original decision to award the contract to Chartwells, which saved the Council £355,000, was “based 70% on cost and 30% on quality,” according to a report by the Smith Institution and Unison trade union.
The Council said it had received no formal complaints about the service, had held an open procurement process and that bids were evaluated by a panel including representatives of local schools.
But the leader of the Council’s Liberal Democrat group, Carmel Townsend, has said she is “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.”
Her comments came after a parent in England posted a photo of a 10-day food “hamper” provided by Chartwells, the contents of which was branded “meagre” by food writer Jack Monroe and “unacceptable” by campaigning footballer Marcus Rashford.
As a result, England’s department for education was subsequently forced to give parents the option of receiving food vouchers rather than parcels from firms like Chartwells.
Newport City Council is among a majority of Welsh councils which are providing vouchers to parents rather than parcels.
However, three Welsh local authorities are continuing to deliver food parcels to mixed reviews. Hampers provided by Caerphilly council have won praise online from parents and campaigners.
But Bridgend County Council have received complaints over the food parcels distributed through a contract with Bristol-based firm, the Real Wrap.
“Many parents have got in touch with us to say they’re not happy with the food parcels you deliver,” said Plaid Cymru MS Bethan Sayed in a video message to the Council.
“Many of the veg are rotten or out of date by the end of the week, dietary requirements are not being met, especially if young children have diabetes for example, and delivery times are inconvenient, especially for those families who are at work.”
Bridgend County Council cabinet member for education, Charles Smith, said the council “continue to believe that the direct delivery of food parcels containing nutritious breakfast and lunch items has been more effective and ultimately better for the children concerned.”
A Senedd petition has been started calling for the Welsh Government to revise guidance on free school meals to remove the option of food parcels.