Thursday, 27 March 2014

A Study on CaterLink

Caterlink, as per its website, are "specialist caterers within schools, colleges and universities." They have contracts providing food to schools across the United Kingdom. Caterlink's parent company, Westbury Street Holdings, reported profits for 2012 were £6.2 million, after having a turnover of £466.1 million. Caterlink have held the catering contract for Camden schools (both Primary and Secondary) since 2006, and signed the latest contract, joint with Islington Council, in 2011 for £7.5 million.

The theory in outsourcing services and tendering contracts, something common in the post-Thatcher Britain, is that it brings all the benefits of the private sector, without full privatisation; that is to say that Camden in theory maintains a portion of control over dietary specifications, which one expects is a requirement in the multi-million pound contracts. But if these contracts are done for these supposed benefits, as well as the ease of Camden not having to directly provide the services, why are there so often complaints, in Camden at least, about Caterlink's food?

Just googling "Caterlink Camden" brought up this link from the CNJ, October 2011, alleges that Caterlink cut corner in producing their foods, for example filling a Meat Lasagne with "Tuna, chickpeas and carrot" (and presumably Horse-meat too). Indeed this reporter found a similar thing occurring last year, with Chicken Paninis suddenly containing vegetables, then within two weeks containing more vegetable than Chicken. It isn't something as major as this we're talking about. It's more the complaints about the portion sizes, or certain ingredients: for example the aforementioned Panini-gate or Caterlink being told to "Stop shrinking the Jelly!".

There was also news from the Mount Olympus that is the Sixth Form Common Room, as the Canteen was closed at break times due to it "not making enough money." Granted since then it has been closed due to equipment damage, however, the idea that something which is essence ran as a public service can be shut because of them not making enough money is absurd. There is the ever increasing sight of Sixth formers leaving reception at break, and returning with bags stuffed to the brim with Boost, KA, Crisps, Sweets and Chocolate. This is, of course, their prerogative, however this trend can only be aided by the absence of the healthier options Caterlink should be providing.

On the note of Sixth Form, such is the general apathy over the food offered, is that KS3 & KS4 students crave the day they are able to get their dose of Sam's, McD's, Subway or the seemingly returning Meral's (rip in peace sweet prince). No bigger damnation can come from the fact that SLT are regularly seen ordering Subway Platters for meals in meetings at lunch, rather than use Caterlink's services, showing that both Teachers and Students dislike the food.

The argument for or against the privatisation of public services is one for another time and platform, and we must hasten to add that the decision to use Caterlink is not the school's but Camden Council's. So, it must be said that, whilst the SLT cannot be blamed for this, that something cannot be done, it is up to Camden Council to come to the conclusion that Caterlink is unpopular, and that something should be done to change this. Albeit we do not have an in-depth knowledge of this; we would presume that it would cost Camden and Islington combined, less than £8.6 million (price of the contract plus the expected savings) a year to provide a decent, healthy meal that the average student would prefer to eat for free, than waiting until after school to buy a 2 for £2.

DISCLAIMER: This Hampstead Trash article has been written to inform readers, portraying a factual argument over a specific subject or to report objectively on an event that has occurred.

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