LACA Main Event 2017 review
01/09/2017 - 07:00
LACA’s Main Event wound up with an expressed commitment by the leadership to embed universal infant free school meals (UIFSM) into the nation’s school food structure, and to pursue research into a full evaluation of the programme.

National Chair Sally Shadrack: “We need to ensure we research this over a number of years and carry out a proper evaluation. This work would cost only about 1% of the £600m the Government is spending on the scheme.”

National Vice Chair Tim Blowers agreed: “Evaluation will be key to helping us get the evidence we need to prove the benefits of UIFSM.

“But, more than that, we need UIFSM to be made a statutory obligation, just like the provision of free school meals.”

They were wrapping up the three-day Main Event programme with a panel discussion on Friday (July 7) led by conference chair Dr David Bull.

Sharon Hodgson, MP, Shadow Minister for Public Health and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for School Food, joined the panel and told delegates: “You need to win the argument, not just with politicians but with the country as a whole. We need to get to the stage that it should be a given that every child receives a free meal.

“Even if you can afford it, it’s not free because you pay your taxes.

“Cutting funding for UIFSM is seen as an easy win for politicians, so let’s win the argument once and for all.

“LACA is powerful as a group, but you also have power as individuals. Invite MPs to your schools, tell them your stories, make it personal and have these conversations. Don’t assume they will know about the school food sector - you have to educate them and make the argument.”

The panel debate followed the presentation by Vice Chair Tim Blowers of data from research conducted among LACA members, which showed that more than 70% see making a positive case to retain and expand UIFSM the main challenge facing the school food industry in the year ahead.

For members in Wales, where UIFSM does not operate, over 65% of members felt the priority was negotiating changes to the public sector procurement system.

Earlier in the day Matt Baker, the Countryfile and One Show presenter had told delegates that he believed his openness to opportunities and readiness to accept new challenges had helped guide him in his varied and successful career.

The previous day, Thursday July 6th, had seen a packed conference programme that was kicked off by Justin Webb, one of the presenters on BBC Radio 4’s flagship morning news programme Today.

Among a range of issues he touched on, he made the point that while he felt social media did wield enormous influence, he had doubts that it could be controlled by any organisation to help its cause.

He then chaired a panel discussion that looked at the cost pressures facing school catering operations from food price inflation to the introduction of the National Living Wage.

The panel was told that a survey of LACA members showed that 84% plan to raise prices in the coming year as a result.

Conference was told that strategies employed by caterers to cope with cost pressures ranged from reformulating menus, substituting cheaper ingredients and ‘playing one supplier off against another’.

Mayor of Newham Sir Robin Wales explained to delegates why his borough subsidised school meals so that both Key Stage 1 and 2 children were offered free lunchtime food.

He said: “It comes down to a question of morality. Are children worth it? It makes a difference to kids health and learning, so why wouldn’t you? Free school meals is the right thing to do.”

The afternoon session got insight into US school and holiday time feeding schemes from Dr Katie Wilson, who was until recently USDA Deputy Under-Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services.

Other presentations included Judith Gregory and Katie Palmer outlining the award-winning Summer Holiday Enrichment Plan (SHEP) in Wales, and FCSI chair Julian Edwards updating delegates on a LACA-backed scheme to offer one school a ‘catering makeover’ to see how this benefited its school lunch programme.

Stephanie Davies, a comedian and behavioural psychologist, looked at how the science behind laughter held opportunities to improve the work environment.

And the day was rounded off with LACA’s Awards for Excellence and a gala dinner in the evening.

Running alongside the main conference was a highly successful exhibition involving more than 160 suppliers, plus competitions such as the Finishing Touches salon culinaire, the Unilever-sponsored Big School Bake off for school chefs, and the McDougall’s-sponsored Young Baking Team of the Year.

The first day of the event, Wednesday July 5th, provided a programme of workshop sessions in the morning, the opening of the exhibition and a Summer Of Love-themed ‘ice-breaker’ event in the evening at which a variety of street food was served.

To see pictures from LACA's Main Event 2017 click here