Pupils 'to strike' over lunch costs

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The Independent Online

Pupils are threatening to strike in protest at school meal price increases and what they see as profiteering by the private contractor brought in to provide their lunches.

School children at St Mary Redcliffe and Temple School in Bristol started to complain when the price of meals increased from £1.45 to £1.56. At the same time they were told they would have to pay for extras usually included, and they got smaller portions.

A private company, Scolarest, won the catering contract for the school in September 2001 and provides meals at more than 2,000 schools and universities in the UK and Ireland.

John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB trade union, which has campaigned tirelessly against the use of private companies in public services, said last night: "We never thought we would literally see the private sector stealing food from the mouths of schoolchildren. We have reports of similar things up and down the country."

A school employee, who did not wish to be named, said the cost of meals went up almost as soon as the company took over the school meals contract from the council. She claimed bulk purchase savings were not being passed on. Staff were told to make the portions smaller and not to use certain ingredients because they were too expensive.

"Basically, all they seem to be interested in are pounds and pence," she said. "As long as it makes a profit they don't seem to be interested in what the kids are eating."

Scolarest admitted the price of set meals had gone up but said that was a local authority decision. A spokeswoman said: "The local authority's monitoring officerrecently visited the school's catering facilities, looking at specific criteria such as portion size, price and specification, and there were no issues."