A Dorset catering business is serving up an easy solution for the school meal tender process.
Forerunner Catering in Bournemouth has produced a free ‘tender toolkit’ to relieve the pressure on local headteachers and school business managers.
Many schools are under the impression that, due to a meal service contract’s value and size, the procurement process is beyond their capabilities.
Previously this has led schools to let the local authority take the lead on their behalf and join the council’s framework agreement of agreed suppliers.
Across Dorset this has seen the vast majority of schools tied into a long-term contract with just one supplier – and no easy get out.
Now, following extensive research and expert advice, Forerunner says it has found the way that will enable schools to take the lead and give them back the buying power.
It has discovered that schools can bypass a full European-wide tender exercise and opt for a much easier and far more affordable process.
MD Declan O’Toole, explained: “There is a common misconception that running a compliant procurement process for universal free school meals is difficult and beyond the capabilities of a primary school or its multi-trust academy.
“But the idea that schools cannot run their own tender process is wrong.
“School meals are part of a regime of EU and UK procurement law called the Light Touch Regime, which allows headteachers or business managers to easily run their own tender.
“We’ve decided to make it even easier for them by producing a bespoke set of tender documents specifically designed for school meal contracts.
“Yes, we have done this because we want to be in with a chance of winning contracts but we know this will not give us any advantages over other companies. All we want is a fair go in a transparent, competitive tender.”
Forerunner, which supplies meals to 14 schools and nurseries across Dorset, teamed up with procurement specialists Augmentas Group to produce the tender documents.
Not only are they specifically designed for school meals contracts but they are also fully compliant with all EU and UK procurement law.
And a huge advantage to schools in running their own tender process is that they can set the criteria that matters to them – whether that be price, quality, local supply or environmental impact.
Universal free school meals for Key Stage 1 children were introduced in 2014 and in Dorset the local authorities awarded one major contract to national company Chartwells (part of the Compass group).
The roll-out in September of that year caused huge controversy as schools were left in the lurch when school meals did not arrive.
Headteachers were forced to step in and provide lunches for reception, year one and year two children. Some chose to order in pizzas while others made a last-minute dash to a supermarket to buy provisions.
Complaints were also made to the then Dorset County Council, which had awarded Chartwells the £3.5 million contract, about the quality of food when it did arrive.
Declan O’Toole said: “The problem with one large, long-term contract like that, which is led by the local authority, is that schools have very little say or room for manoeuvre when things go wrong.
“It’s fair to say that the roll out of free school meals in Dorset was not a success and six years on, many dissatisfied schools are still tied into that contract.
“With contracts now coming to an end all we will say is it’s time for schools to take charge when it comes to providing the school meals their children deserve.”
Schools can find out more about Forerunner’s procurement pack at www.hotmealsonwheels.com
Note to editors: For more information please contact Rachel Read, account director at Deep South Media, on 01202 534487.