Big companies have won most of the contracts to provide free school lunches next year, despite ministers’ initial hopes that the scheme would create jobs for small-scale community groups.

The social enterprise Eat My Lunch and the University of Canterbury Students’ Association, a registered charity, are the only non-commercial operators that have won contracts to supply school lunches – to 19,412 students in 53 schools – from the start of the new school year.

Six companies have won the tender to feed 58,362 students at another 212 schools.

Hamilton-based Montana Catering has won the contracts to feed 17,707 students in Waikato and Manurewa schools, the multinational Compass Group will feed 11,600 from Taranaki to Christchurch, Libelle Group will feed 10,414 from Kaitāia to Timaru, Downer-owned Spotless will feed 9081 in parts of Auckland, Kāpura (Wellington Hospitality Group) will feed 6352 in Porirua and the Hutt Valley, and the Virtual Cooking Company (FED) will feed 3208 in Māngere and Ōtāhuhu.

The $220 million expansion of the school lunch scheme was announced in the May 14 Budget using Covid-19 funding and aims to feed about 200,000 students in the 25 per cent of schools with the highest levels of socio-economic disadvantage.

Ministry of Education reports provided under the Official Information Act show ministers told officials “to prioritise local employment and the requirement for suppliers to set a wage floor (living wage) to those employed through the programme”.

The living wage of $22.10 for all staff was included in the tender, but the documents show that officials decided within a month of the Budget to “use primarily large-scale providers” because of the tight timeframe of starting from the first term of 2021.

“In order to expand at the pace required, we intend to utilise primarily large-scale providers that can service the majority of schools and kura in the programme nationwide,” officials told Education Minister Chris Hipkins on June 11.

“There will be a limited number of smaller-scale and community-based providers in some schools and kura where reach is a barrier for larger suppliers, or schools and kura choose this option.

“However, utilising smaller-scale providers alone for the expansion is not feasible in the time available.”

Article Source NZ Herald.

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