30/03/2005

Celebrity chef hands in petition to Downing Street

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has handed in a petition to Downing Street, protesting at the standards of meals served in Britain's schools.

The petition, which contained over 270,000 signatures, was set up on the chef's 'Feed Me Better' campaign web site. Mr Oliver has been campaigning for changes to be made to school dinners, since launching his TV series, 'Jamie's School Dinners', which exposed the poor quality of meals in many schools across the UK.

Mr Oliver's campaign reached its climax as the Education Secretary Ruth Kelly announced a £280 million package to transform the quality of school meals.

The campaign includes plan to raise the amount spent on primary school meals to at least 50p per child and 60p for secondary school pupils, by providing £220 million in new funding grants. The average amount currently spent on school dinners is 37p.

The measures unveiled by Mrs Kelly also include plans to spend £60 million on a new School Fund Trust; the introduction of advisory minimum nutritional standards from September 2005 (which will be mandatory from September 2006) and including school meals in Ofsted schools inspections.

Commenting on the new measures, the Education Secretary said: "This £280 million package will make a real difference. Every school will now be able to spend a minimum of 50p per pupil on ingredients for school meals. This new investment will transform what is offered to children and teenagers in our schools so that high-quality health food is on every child's plate."

Mr Oliver described the government's proposals as "very positive" and told reporters that 50p and 60p was "the right sort of money" to be spent on school meals.

Shadow Education Secretary Tim Collins described the new plans as "cynical and half-hearted." He said: "I am afraid that after eight years in government, for Tony Blair to claim he is really passionate about school dinners after a celebrity TV programme, will leave people feeling incredibly cynical."

Mr Collins also called for a complete ban on the sale of junk food in schools. He said: "We should not be paying out for food that is going to cause major health problems in later life. We need to look at vending machines, selling crisps and fizzy drinks that have a direct link to poor health and poor behaviour. We would be in favour of banning junk food, getting rid of vending machines. We need to do the right thing for our children."

Liberal Democrats Education spokesperson, Phil Willis, commented: "This new funding will need to continue beyond the next 3 years, otherwise it will be a case of 'please sir, can we have some more'. Conspicuous by its absence is a commitment to strict nutritional standards for school dinners. It is not enough to only regulate the levels of fat and salt in processed foods."

Steve Sinnott, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers has launched a campaign to urge the government to spend at least £1 on each school dinner.

(KMcA/SP)

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