School dinner choice is slashed and staff told to stockpile ‘long-life food’ amid supply fears
School dinner choices are being slashed and staff advised to stockpile essential food supplies amid fears suppliers will struggle to keep children properly fed this winter.
ISS, one of the UK’s largest canteen suppliers, has reportedly told 450 schools it is having issues with ‘sourcing, packing and distribution’, predicting that the problem will ‘get worse’ over the winter and will continue until February.
School canteens were advised by ISS in an email to stockpile ‘long life, dried, tinned and frozen’ products to make sure children can still be fed in a ‘worse case scenario’ this winter, according to ITV News.
Meanwhile, food wholesaler BidFood has warned that it is experiencing ‘significant’ supply pressures and struggling to recruit HGV drivers, blaming the issues on the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit.
In Lancashire, thousands of pupils are being offered a reduced menu, The Times reported.
‘One school this week has not had a delivery of sandwiches. Another, no soup was sent. One school cook has even reported going out and purchasing additional items out of her own money as she was concerned about the choices on offer,’ Samara Barnes, a Labour councillor, told Lancashire Live.
‘This is a grave concern, especially given the fact that we know some children rely on their school dinner as their only meal of the day.’
The county council has insisted that ‘all pupils will still receive a healthy, nutritious and warm meal,’ The Times reported, and that it expected to return to the full menu later this month.
The upheaval comes amid a growing shortage of HGV drivers, a nationwide panic-buying spree at petrol stations and growing fear inside Downing Street that supermarket shelves could remain barren until December 25.
Canteen supplier ISS has reportedly told 450 schools to stockpile ‘long life, dried, tinned and frozen’ products to make sure children can still be fed this winter (stock image)
Sir Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, has written to Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi calling for him to urgently meet school caterers, school governors and local councillors to discuss the crisis after the party heard of ‘stark issues’ with food shortages.
But Zahawi told ITV that it was ‘news to him’ that schools were being asked to stockpile food.
Labour’s shadow education secretary Kate Green accused the Government of ‘burying their heads in the sand’ over supply chain issues which have led to petrol pumps running dry and empty food shelves.
In his letter to Mr Zahawi, Sir Ed said: “Across the country, I have heard from Liberal Democrat councillors and schools about some stark issues with food disruption in our schools for our children.
“Parents have endured so much and worked so hard during the pandemic but it seems your Government has failed them yet again. The least you can do is ensure a hot meal at their school for their children.
“For months you and your fellow ministers have been warned about the effects the shortage crisis could have on our economy and our everyday lives, now we see this reality coming true. For you to not have this on your radar is both surprising and a shocking abduction of leadership.”
Ms Green has called for a plan to recruit and train more HGV drivers to ease the supply issues, adding: “No school must be left without the food supplies it needs, and no child left going hungry.”
There are concerns of a 1978-style ‘winter of discontent’ for the UK, with skyrocketing energy prices, food shortages and fuel rationing.
In the email, which was sent a week ago, ISS reportedly said it is confident that it will be able to provide food across winter, but warned that it may change its menus at short notice as part of contingency plans.
ISS was said to have warned school canteens that it was already suffering from shortages of fish fingers, with the ‘fallback’ replacement meal being jacket potatoes.
Amid fears of a winter of discontent, ISS reportedly urged schools to place orders a week in advice, remove sandwich options due to bread shortages, remove unnecessary frozen items, such as ice cream, and ‘stockpile’ essential items.
A spokesperson for ISS told MailOnline: ‘Our priority is always the schools, and the children, whose meals we provide.
‘We would like to reassure parents and carers that our ability to continue to provide nutritious school meals is not being impacted by the well-publicised shortages of items that the UK is currently experiencing.
‘Naturally, we have contingency plans in place to ensure that a good supply of meals remains in place.
‘That contingency planning includes regular communication with our stakeholders during these challenging times for many schools across the country.’
Meanwhile, food wholesaler BidFood has warned that it is experiencing ‘significant’ supply pressures and is struggling to recruit HGV drivers (stock image)
It comes amid a shortage of HGV drivers and panic-buying sprees at petrol stations. Pictured: Customers queuing in cars to access an Asda petrol station in east London on September 25
Meanwhile, BidFood, one of the UK’s largest food wholesalers, told the publication that it is struggling with supply ‘pressures’ and are struggling to recruit HGV drivers.
The company, which delivers to schools, claimed it is ‘impacting’ its ability to deliver its ‘usual levels of service’ from some depots, blaming the issues on Brexit and the Covid pandemic.
A BidFood spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘As a result of the impacts Brexit and Covid-19 continue to have on the hospitality industry, we’re experiencing significant pressures across the supply chain, including shortages from manufacturers and challenges with HGV driver recruitment, which in turn is impacting our ability to deliver our usual levels of service out of a portion of our depots.
‘Our team are working proactively with our customers to mitigate these issues, including providing up-to-date information about availability, notifying them of any delays and rearranging deliveries to neighbouring depots with greater capacity, wherever possible.
‘We are also continuing to leverage our strong relationships with suppliers to ensure we receive enough stock to be in a position to fulfil our customers’ needs.
‘The past 18 months have, and continue to be, extremely challenging for the industry and our teams are working around the clock to put in place measures to get deliveries out to customers.’
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi told ITV News that it was ‘news to him’ that canteen providers had asked schools to stockpile food.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: ‘There is no evidence to suggest widespread supply issues. Schools have flexibility under the School Food Standards to substitute food products if particular ingredients or meals are not readily available.’
The comments come after Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called on HGV bosses to give drivers a pay rise, and prepared to send them one million ‘morale-boosting’ letters in the run-up to Christmas.
The move comes as drivers are panic buying fuel across the nation amid the driver shortage and growing concern that supermarket shelves could remain barren until December 25.
Ministers are said to be urging up to 40,000 retired hauliers to return to action in a last-gasp bid to save Christmas, as retailers warned the Government it has less than two weeks to prepare for the festive season.
Meanwhile, Johnson is to personally sign off on a million ‘morale-boosting’ letters urging drivers who turned away from the industry to get back on Britain’s roads.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi (pictured) said it was ‘news to him’ that canteen providers had asked schools to stockpile food amid fears of a ‘winter of discontent’
And in a further boost, more than 10,000 temporary foreign visas will be fast-tracked by the Government as ministers rush to solve the supply chain crisis that’s threatening Christmas.
The scenes of queues outside petrol stations – which for some will stir up memories of the 1973 Opec Oil Crisis and the 2000 fuel shortage – come amid fears of a 1978-style ‘winter of discontent’ for the UK.
The shortage of HGV drivers has long threatened to wreak havoc this winter, and it has been exacerbated by a huge backlog in HGV tests due to Covid, as well as foreign drivers returning home amid the pandemic and Brexit.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the changes, with the visas available from next month, would ‘ensure preparations remain on track’ for the festive season.
He echoed calls for drivers to be fairly compensated and added: ‘We are acting now, but the industries must also play their part with working conditions continuing to improve and the deserved salary increases continuing to be maintained in order for companies to retain new drivers.
‘I know how important this Christmas is for all of us and that’s why we’re taking these steps at the earliest opportunity to ensure preparations remain on track.’
Retailers had warned the Government that it had just 10 days to save the festive period from ‘significant disruption’ due to a shortfall of about 90,000 drivers in the freight sector.
It comes as thousands of desperate drivers ignored Government pleas for calm as they jammed roads – with fears mounting over the impact of lasting fuel shortages on the economy.
The Petrol Retailers Association had told drivers to ‘keep a quarter of a tank’ of fuel in their vehicles in preparation for potential closures of local petrol stations.
The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated a global shortage of lorry drivers, although there have been long-term issues in the UK with labour numbers amid an ageing workforce, low wages and poor truck stop conditions.
The DfT said it recognised that importing foreign labour ‘will not be the long term solution’ to the problem and that it wanted to see investment poured into establishing a robust domestic workforce.
A Shell garage employee holds a sign on the side of the road informing traffic that they do not have unleaded petrol
The scenes of queues outside petrol stations come amid fears of a 1978-style ‘winter of discontent’ for the UK
Officials said the Government continued to support solving the high vacancy rate through improved testing and hiring, with better pay, working conditions and diversity.
Another long-term measure to turn the situation around will see the Department for Education plough up to £10 million into creating new ‘skills bootcamps’ to train up to 3,000 more people to become HGV drivers.
The free, intensive courses will train drivers to undertake an entry level HGV licence (Category C) or a more advanced course to operate heavier and longer lorries (Category C&E).
Another 1,000 people are expected to be trained through courses accessed locally and funded by the Government’s adult education budget.
Those accessing medical and HGV licences through the adult budget in the 2021/22 academic year will have their qualifications paid for by the state, with the funding backdated to anyone who started one of these qualifications on or after August 1.
More DVSA examiners will also be freed up to conduct lorry driver tests via a law change to allow driving examiners at the three emergency services and the MoD to be able to conduct driving tests for one another.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: ‘HGV drivers keep this country running.
‘We are taking action to tackle the shortage of drivers by removing barriers to help more people to launch new well-paid careers in the industry, supporting thousands to get the training they need to be road ready.’
Environment Secretary George Eustice said: ‘We have listened to concerns from the sector and we are acting to alleviate what is a very tight labour market.’
The Government said it had already streamlined the process for new HGV drivers while increasing the number of driving tests available to allow for an extra 50,000 tests to take place per year.