Alarm after Mid Ulster schools catering budget slashed

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The Southern Education and Library Board has slashed its catering budget to schools in the Cookstown area by almost a third.

In fact, the amount spent on catering contracts by the local education board has plunged to its lowest in five years, dropping from £1,013,086 in 2013/14 to £683,939 in 2014/15.

The figures, which relate to the purchase of catering equipment and the refurbishment of kitchen facillities, were released by the Department of Education at the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The total spent by SELB over the past five years £4.3m was the highest in Northern Ireland. The next highest spend was in the South Eastern Library Board with a bill of £2,9m.

SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone said, “The sudden cut in the amount spent on catering contracts for school meals by the SELB is a serious concern. Everyone understands the pressure on budgets and the need to ensure value for money when awarding contracts.

“But the figures show serious discrepancies between the priorities of Education Boards across the north when it comes to providing school meals. It is essential to ensuring that children are in the best possible position to make the most of their educational opportunities that they receive good food nutrition during the school day.

An Education Authority, Southern Region (formerly SELB) spokesperson said:

“The figures quoted represent the amount spent by the ELBs on catering equipment contracts and do not represent annual budgets for the School Meals Service.

“The purchase of catering equipment is determined by the need for replacement items, for new school buildings and for refurbishment of existing buildings and is therefore subject to variation.”