School meals - cheshire east catering services

The catering service that dozens of schools rely on to feed pupils could be axed amid further cuts planned by Cheshire East Council, writes Belinda Ryan.

Schools across the borough have different arrangements in place, including some buying back from Cheshire East’s catering service or use another third party provider. Some schools provide lunches themselves.

Cheshire East Council’s catering service, operating under the name of Fresh, currently provides lunches and snacks to 87 schools.

But the once profit-making set up has suffered a shortfall between income and expenditure in recent years, which meant the council has been subsidising the service.

A report to next week’s meeting of the children and families committee says: “Given the financial position of the council, the catering service needs to be self-financing or cost-neutral to the council.”

The price the council charges schools for meals it provides, increased in January to £2.53 for a free school meal. Paid meals increased by 15%.

The report states: “The January increase should offset the 2023/24 school catering shortfall by approximately £207,600 and provide a full-year increase of £709,900 in 2024/25.

“However, the increased charge will not support its [the service] long term viability.”

The council estimates if it is to continue running the service without subsidising it, it would need to charge an average of £3.15 per meal from April.

If free school meals were charged at the existing rate of funding provided by the government of £2.53, then paid meals would need to rise to more than £4 per child.

Because of the impact this would have on school budgets, the council expects schools would pass on some, or all, of that increase to parents.

This could result in families choosing not to pay for a school meal – and any significant reduction in the take-up of paid meals would increase the budget pressure on the council further.

The report says: “It is therefore proposed to cease trading the school meal service at the earliest opportunity in negotiation with schools.”

It adds schools would be supported to explore all other options, including information on the process should they wish to provide their own school meals or to procure alternative provision.

The committee on Monday will be asked to consider five options – these include closing the catering service, retaining it but ensuring it is self-funded or out-sourcing it.

The council’s officers are recommending the committee approve the option to cease Cheshire East catering service by the end of December 2024 if possible, following discussions with schools.

The service currently employs approximately 270 people and the report says, in the event of Cheshire East stopping the service, as many staff as possible would TUPE over to the new provider.

The children and families committee meeting takes place at 2pm on Monday, February 12, at the council’s Westfields HQ at Sandbach.


  1. Hand back all the the sourcing and cooking of ingredients to the individual schools and let them work to a budget. Too much bureaucracy, red tape and management in the whole process which is why all the costs add up and starts to make it unaffordable.

    We all know the link between a good diet and health/wellbeing and reducing the burden on the NHS. The quality of school meals has to be a priority.

  2. Shelia Evans says:

    what a joke there are soup kitchens to feed the homeless, yet the school caterers cannot make a profit. why not simplify the service, just make three items for the £2.53 a soup freshly made with veg, a curry using potatoes and chicken and a good old piece of jam sponge or piece of fruit I have costed that and it comes to £2.52 so crack on, if parents can work to a budget so should you!!

  3. Christ on a bike if that picture is what we feeding our kids at school as it looks like leftovers from a dickensian workhouse with a piece of cardboard for deserts its probbaly for the best if Cheshire East let our kids starve.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By using this form you agree with the storage and handling of your data by this website, to learn more please read our privacy policy.


Captcha * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.