Error-prone firm keeps council catering contract

The company provides food to city schools, care homes and other council-run services. Picture: PA
The company provides food to city schools, care homes and other council-run services. Picture: PA
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A FIRM that supplies groceries to council-run care homes and schools is to keep its ­lucrative contract despite a string of errors, including failing to deliver orders and supplying food that was close to being out of date.

A scathing report into the first year of a three-year ­contract awarded to ­Huddersfield-based Batleys revealed the council had warned the company during the summer it was considering axing the £2.13 million deal over a series of “weaknesses” in performance.

Problems surfacing in the first few months of the ­contract included items being ­confirmed as in stock only to be missing come delivery time and products consistently being unavailable in smaller sizes and quantities.

Council officers said ­deliveries were also being made to suit the contractor rather than the local authority.

The contract had been awarded to Batleys starting from January in a bid to save cash.

The service had previously been supplied by wholesale food distributor 3663, but had cost £98,000 more a year. Batleys supplies hundreds of care homes, schools and corporate buildings with food and provisions under the contract running to April 2016. Cheese products, sandwiches, cooked meats and biscuits are among the products supplied under the agreement.

Green finance spokesman Councillor Gavin ­Corbett said: “When this contract was let a year ago I sought ­assurances that it would be flexible enough to meet rising ­aspirations about the quality of food ­provided to care homes, schools and other council ­services. Now it seems that the ­contractor has not even been getting the basics right.

“Big bulk supply contracts which treat food like it’s on a factory conveyor belt may seem to be cheaper but, in the end, we all lose.”

Nicola Clark-Tonberg, chair of Broughton Primary parent council, said knowing the food being ­supplied to schools was healthy and fresh was critical to ­parents.

An emergency meeting was held in August at which Batleys was told to drastically improve its performance or risk losing the contract. Changes have included appointing a dedicated food service buyer to oversee stock levels and an extension to chilled back-up storage ­facilities at the firm’s ­Edinburgh depot. However, a progress meeting has been organised for January 10 in a sign that doubts remain over the supplier.

City finance and resources convener Alasdair Rankin said: “Termination of a contract would always be a last resort once all other avenues have been exhausted.

“This contract represented the best value for money for the council and we are confident that the measures put in place by the supplier are resulting in a much improved service.

“We will continue to ­monitor the supplier’s performance to ensure it meets the council’s service requirements.”

Batleys did not respond to a request for comment.

LOW MARKS

THE failings made by supplies firm Batleys have included:

• Ordered items not being delivered;

• Items that had been ordered and confirmed as being in stock being unavailable at the time of delivery;

• Items of smaller size and quantities being consistently unavailable;

• Essential products for the running of the council’s service not being available;

• Goods received with extremely short ‘use-by’ dates returned.