Government to scrap school scheme

The government is pulling the plug on the School Fruit & Vegetable Scheme and the fresh produce industry has 18 months to assist in the creation of a suitable replacement.

At a meeting with existing and prospective suppliers to the scheme this week, NHS PASA purchasing manager Mike Tiddy said contracts for the academic year 2006-07 will be assured, but the department of health will not be pledging further funds for the scheme in its current format.

The move follows the formation of the School Food Trust, designed to revolutionise dietary habits within schools, including all catering and vending machines.

Tiddy said: “The department still has long-term objectives for the fruit and vegetable scheme, but it does want to see the school scheme integrated more within the School Food Trust with other school nutritional initiatives and obesity targets. I would say there have to be changes.”

Richard Clements, SFVS account manager at major supplier Redbridge, said he understands the DoH will be shifting responsibility for the school scheme to local educational authorities, in line with the total shake-up of school nutrition.

It is thought this venture could see a dramatic removal of all unhealthy meals and snacks, to be replaced with healthy options, including, of course, fruit and vegetables.

The trust has yet to decide how these changes will take place, but Clements said produce suppliers need to ensure they do not get left out.

“The challenge from the industry point of view is to get into the decision-making process and get involved in the new catering regimes, whatever they may be,” he said.

Tiddy tried to reassure dedicated fruit and veg suppliers that they will continue to assume significant roles in the supply of fresh produce to schools going forward.

He said: “The industry opportunities are increasing, not decreasing. Everything is geared towards encouraging healthy eating and fruit and vegetables are an essential component of that. Some suppliers may be concerned about the changes but the majority seem to understand very well that the scheme has to move on.”

The idea behind the changes is to make produce consumption part of a whole-school approach to good nutrition, following recent reports that intake is not improving for children outside the four-to-six year bracket covered by SFVS.

Therefore, while suppliers may not be employed to provide fruit and veg in the same way, Clements said he remains confident schools will still require Redbridge’s products.

He said: “There are 200 tonnes of fruit going into the schools per day at the moment for four-to-six year olds. The question is whether that volume will continue.

“They say there’s no direct funding for the scheme, but if you are removing all unhealthy desserts and snacking options in schools, you have to replace them with something and fruit is the obvious solution. But that still needs to be paid for.”

Clements added that he hoped the 18-months-notice would enable suppliers to work with the government to ensure momentum is maintained and the benefits already achieved by the SFVS do not go to waste.

Tiddy is set to discuss future involvement for the industry with FPC chief executive Nigel Jenney, but no date has been fixed