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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 March 2005, 16:26 GMT 17:26 UK
TV chef welcomes 280m meals plan
Jamie Oliver delivering his petition to Tony Blair
Jamie Oliver delivered his petition to Tony Blair
Chef Jamie Oliver has welcomed the government's extra 280m to tackle the school meals "crisis" in England.

At least 50p will be spent on each primary school lunch and 60p in secondaries. Some primaries currently spend as little as 37p on ingredients.

He said it would "make a difference to every kid in this country", after delivering a petition to Tony Blair.

Mr Blair paid tribute to the chef, but said the government had been working on the issue for "quite a long time".

Staff training

Mr Oliver said the cash boost was "20 years too late", but "the right sort of money".

The row over the cost of dinners escalated after the chef's Channel 4 show revealed how little some schools in south-east London spent on pupils' meals.

His Feed Me Better campaign attracted 271,677 signatures of support.

The extra 280m announced by the government will be spent over the next three years. Some 220m will go on improving ingredients and targeting areas with the poorest services.

Tony Blair in school kitchen
Parents will also get advice on nutritional standards
The cash will also be used to improve the training of catering staff and to extend their hours so that they can prepare fresh food on school premises.

The other 60m is for a School Food Trust to advise schools - and parents - on healthier meals. Of that, 45m is from the Big Lottery Fund.

A panel of experts will draw up guidelines for schools to follow, starting from this autumn, and they will become mandatory from September 2006.

'Restricting choice'

Father-of-two Mr Oliver said it was a shame that a TV programme had prompted the move: "I think unfortunately it has taken a documentary, and really the hearts and emotions of the kids and families that I've filmed, to sort of touch the nation, really."

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Education Secretary Ruth Kelly said the new cash would "transform what is offered to children and teenagers in our schools so that high-quality healthy food is on every child's plate".

She refused to go so far as saying junk food would be banned in schools, but the School Food Trust would be able to make such recommendations.

"I think in primary schools, for example, there is a very strong case for restricting choice," she said.

'Cynical'

Opposition parties welcomed the extra funds, but suggested the government was jumping on the school meals bandwagon.

Liberal Democrat spokesman Phil Willis said: "The extra funds are welcome, but it's sad that it's taken a celebrity chef to get the government to act when they've had eight years to improve the sorry state of school dinners."

Shadow education secretary Tim Collins promised to spend "at least as much" as the government.

I hope that this new initiative is more than the government simply throwing money at a problem because we're a few weeks away from an election
Liberal Democrat Phil Willis

He added: "It is breathtakingly cynical for Tony Blair suddenly to claim that he is passionate about the quality of school meals just because a celebrity chef has made a TV programme about it."

Jamie Oliver is meeting Tory leader Michael Howard on Thursday to discuss his party's plans for school meals.

Healthy eating initiatives are also under way in schools in other parts of the country.

Nutritional standards were introduced in 2003 for schools in Scotland, where 63.5m is being spent over three years on better ingredients.

In Wales, the assembly government said it strongly encourages local authorities and schools to prioritise healthy food and Jamie Oliver had praised what was being done.

A spokeswoman said: "We do not nor do we intend setting a guide figure for the ingredient of school meals - it is a matter for local authorities and schools to determine in the contract price negotiations with suppliers."




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