Like most school meals caterers, 1999 was for us a year of great change. This year will see even more upheaval, too, as various Government departments continue to ring in the new.
January 2000 saw the demise of compulsory competitive tendering (CCT), which has been replaced with Best Value. CCT was a simple process, which few people really liked.
Best Value is not so simple. It calls for ongoing review of the service you are providing. It requires you to talk to your customers and ask what type of service they want. It also requires you to measure your service against others to see where you need to improve.
The process can be very judgemental, as I am sure we all think we are giving Best Value.
The next change for school caterers is in nutritional standards for school meals. During the latter part of 1998 the Government issued a consultation document for school lunches entitled Ingredients For Success.
It was a fairly bland attempt to improve standards, and it would appear that the message reached home. Consequently, a new consultation document was issued in November 1999.
This certainly isn't wishy-washy, but could be interpreted as very prescriptive. However, I have sent in my comments and await the outcome.
Another change has been to the delegation of catering budgets to schools, where they exist, that is. Havering's catering budget was withdrawn years ago, and we now operate a self-supporting service.
However, all of these moves lead to schools re-examining their catering services and, in some cases, looking at alternatives.
This month I have been meeting headteacher groups to explain what all of these changes could mean to them.
At the same time I am hoping to convince them all that they are already getting the best possible service.
We have developed new menu systems for both primary and secondary schools; set in place development plans for all secondary schools; there is an upbeat theme for school dining areas; and we are preparing a school meals manual for headteachers.
In Havering there will also be a number of changes, but hopefully the caterer won't be one of them.
RICHARD WARE is head of catering and house services at the London Borough of Havering
Next diary from Richard Ware: 2 March