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The proof is in the pudding

February 21, 2022, 10:28 GMT+1
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  • Jason Stapley looks at why schools are increasingly turning to catering frameworks
The proof is in the pudding

The number of children in England receiving free school meals has climbed to more than 1.6 million – equating to nearly 21 per cent of all students.

Despite government funding available to support schools in offering meals, the increased demand highlights the importance to a growing number of students. 

Considering the guidance and legislation in place, provision of school meals is kept to a standard that must be regularly governed.

For schools that have a never-ending list of responsibilities resulting from their duty of care, the benefits offered by a framework agreement are becoming more apparent. 

Simplifying the shopping experience

For Red Kite Learning Trust, meeting the catering demands of 13 schools across North Yorkshire and Leeds is no small undertaking, and outsourcing support is a decision that must be well informed.

It did so using the Food Broker Services Framework offered by Pagabo in early 2021.

Louise Bullman, the catering operations manager, explained how this came about. “We have always taken pride in providing a catering service across our academies that pupils and parents can rely on,” she said, “but doing this with the help of a framework has been an absolute game changer.

“During our first year using the framework we have experienced a 39% reduction in volume of invoices, which brings the total number down by 1160 and saves our purchasing team hours spent liaising with multiple suppliers.

“One hour per week saved in admin time is 513 hours annually across our teams and more than £5,000 in monetary terms. 

“Each of our schools has access to a functional online shop where live product data and orders can be placed, resulting in one consolidated invoice prepared by e-foods before being sent to each site’s finance team for approval. 

“Rolling out the new system was easy because training could be given at the same time and instances of absence mean tasks are not left incomplete. 

“A fixed pricing structure means that menus can be costed with confidence and price changes come with forewarning.” 

Delegating the complicated bits

Constantly monitoring spend to maintain compliance is a difficult and time-consuming task but all of the Pagabo framework agreements take on this responsibility for the user. 

Our framework suppliers offer a digital platform to increase transparency. Everything from reporting to queries can be managed in one place and allow the user to control outcomes.

We pay close attention to the market to help users achieve the best return on investment while forecasting if further changes are likely to be needed.

New legislation can cause the need for rapid process adjustment. Providing a data link for nutritional data merge, the Food Broker Services Framework has enabled RKLT a smooth transition in consideration of Natasha’s Law, which was introduced in October 2021 to protect allergy suffers. 

Responding to unpredictable changes

Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic have rocked supply chains.

And it’s here, says Louise, that the value of a framework has truly proven its worth: “Providing a meal service that worked alongside the year group bubble measures that were in place in 2021 was a unique experience for schools across the nation and the main challenge came down to a balance between space and time. 

“At our 13 schools, a hybrid approach combining ‘grab and go’ alongside separate communal dining meant that we could protect food options and presentation where possible. 

“The extra insights we’re gaining from the framework also stand out as an improvement compared to our previous system. Regular live market updates have helped us plan more efficiently and e-foods has managed to absorb inflation much longer than we expected.”

Food for thought

With the political and social backdrop in which we find ourselves, there is growing evidence for collaboration involving experts able to increase visibility.

Frameworks pledging to leave a long-lasting social impact, free of charge, may well be the vehicle for catering supplies you didn’t know you needed. 

Jason Stapley is managing director at Pagabo.