Kosher food service for Barnet schools won’t be saved by council despite pressure

Kosher Kitchen closed down suddenly last month leaving some schools unable to provide food for Jewish pupils, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

The Kosher Kitchen service will not be brought back by Barnet Council
The Kosher Kitchen service will not be brought back by Barnet Council

Barnet Council says it will help schools affected by the collapse of a catering provider but still has no plans to step in and save the service.

The town hall has faced mounting pressure to take over the running of the Kosher Kitchen service, which supplied meals to Jewish schools across the borough until it was closed down abruptly on 5th May.

Since then, several schools have reported being unable to provide hot lunches for pupils because costs are now unaffordable.

Kosher Kitchen was originally run by the council before being outsourced to private firm ISS in 2016. It was transferred to Signature Education during 2021/22 and then passed on to another company, London Kosher Caterer, on 1st March this year.

Trade union branch Barnet Unison has called on the council to insource the service and rescue the jobs of 41 staff who were given redundancy notices. Charli Thompson and Holly Kal-Weiss, of Right To Food Barnet, have also called on the council to save the service and bring school catering back in-house.

The town hall has previously insourced a range of services affected by contractual problems, including, most recently, one of the authority’s multi-million-pound deals with Capita.

A council spokesperson said: “The council does not have plans to insource the [Kosher Kitchen] service. Schools decide which catering provider to use and chose to leave the council’s service run by ISS. For the summer term all schools have found an alternative provider, and we are working with schools to find a suitable hot meals service for the next school year.”

Asked about the help the council was providing for affected schools, the spokesperson added: “The council has provided schools with information about catering providers that have approached the council showing interest in providing kosher/kedassia school meals.

“The council has also offered to let the Kosher Kitchen space to the schools’ chosen provider for a minimal rent.

“The council is working with schools and the London mayor’s office to try and ensure that children benefit from the mayor’s universal free school meal offer.”

Barnet Unison has also uncovered a series of financial problems affecting some of the staff members facing redundancy.

The trade union branch said two of the contractors had not paid money into an employee pension scheme. It also claimed some members of staff had been underpaid because an “incorrect formula” previously used by the council continued to be applied by contractors.

Despite supposedly being on the London Living Wage, staff members have remained on the 2020/21 rate of £10.85, according to Barnet Unison.

The council spokesperson said: “Although the staff that were made redundant when the London Kosher Caterer liquidated were not council staff, we know that they are in a difficult position and so have looked to support them.

“We put on a meeting last week for the staff and invited a range of partners to help. Those that attended included staff from DWP [Department for Work and Pensions]/JCP [Jobcentre Plus], BOOST [a local employment service], National Careers Service and ISS World.

“On the day we also provided some tablets and laptops as many of them did not have access to IT. Approximately 20 staff attended the meeting.”

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