We don’t need inquiries or a new ‘School Food Plan’ – we need action and we need it now!

As the owner and operator of 40 UK school restaurants feeding around 50,000 young people each day, I can only sum up my response to Michael Gove’s announced ‘School Food Plan’ in one word – ‘stupid’.

Forget Jamie Oliver’s argument about the fudging and the time-wasting for a just a moment. (Although I heartily agree with him on the points he makes).

I’d just like to know why Mr Gove has chosen Leon founders Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent to lead this inquiry.

In his press release Mr Gove says that these two gentlemen “bring a wealth of practical experience in delivering good food on a budget.”

In the past I’ve eaten and enjoyed the food in Leon restaurants. It’s good food and a model that obviously works for them – feeding London office workers at lunchtime. But you don’t see teenagers eating in there. And I can’t for the life of me think how their model can be applied to the provision of school food.

My company works hard to ensure that qualified chefs cook every meal from scratch in each of our 40 restaurants, a model that Leons can’t seem to stretch to. (Leon’s breads are prepped on site, but ingredients like meatballs are shipped in). Is this the model that Mr Gove thinks we should adopt?

Feeding 1000 school students in an hour means that our service must be instant. If we had to make customers go to tables and wait for their food, we wouldn’t be able to serve even 10% of our customers.

So what can Leons – excellent restaurant chain that it is – teach about school food that best practice education caterers cannot?

Surely Mr Gove has had enough expert voices shouting in his ear to know what is wrong right now – and what needs fixing right now?

I have a nasty suspicion that this new inquiry is just a politician playing for time. I also fear is that the this inquiry may well erode the tremendous progress that a few of us in the industry have been making in recent years.

But I fervently hope I am wrong.

Till next time,

Steve

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