*Beverley Baker has just finished her second term as chair of the LACA. Janie Stamford* asks her about her achievements and what the future holds for the association.
You've just finished your second term as chair of the Local Authority Caterers Association (LACA). How did it compare to your first term?**
Last time I was chair was in 2000 and the climate in which we operate now is quite different. While it didn't feel like I wasn't busy the first time around, the agenda is attracting more media interest this time. School meals have been positioned at the heart of the obesity debate and my second term followed the setting up of the School Food Trust in 2006.
It's an honour to be appointed chair and a big responsibility, but I think twice is enough now. I'd like to see new blood with new ideas coming forward. You get involved in some interesting and exciting events - there's a lot of hard work but it's rewarding as well.
Did you achieve everything you hoped?
Each chair tries to represent its members democratically and move the association forward a little bit. I set three targets to achieve during this term: Change 4 Life partner status for LACA, which we achieved in September 2009; ensure the need for the School Lunch Grant remains high on the Government's agenda; and increase head teacher engagement in school meals.
Together with Caterer, we were delighted to support the School Meals Matter campaign to raise the profile of the importance of school food and the outgoing government did consult on the School Lunch Grant.
Do you think the coalition Government recognises the importance of school meals?
I believe it is well known at government level that we need the School Lunch Grant but we've hit a point of financial crisis in the public sector. I hope that following the comprehensive spending review that the grant remains. However, I think the reality is it will be thrown in with total school funding but not ring-fenced and as a result of cuts to school budgets it may not be spent on improving school food.
It's really essential that it does continue because it will be a struggle without it. I think there is great recognition that as a whole our health is deteriorating, our diet has contributed to that, and school meals have a place in improving health, particularly for the younger generation. My sense is that Government understands that, but whether it invests in it is another matter.
How has LACA changed over the last 20 years?
We took our first subscriptions in March 1990 and it's quite amazing that an association that began with a few dedicated professionals around a kitchen table has grown to an organisation with 800 members and 400 associates. The public sector world back then was not the world it is now and the need for a professional single issue association has never been more necessary. We need to adapt and change for the future as the industry is going to be different again in the short term and we need practitioners in the sector to meet its needs.
What are your thoughts on the Government's decision to cut funding to the School Food Trust?
The School Food Trust (SFT) was charged with establishing the legislation and it has issued the guidance and details needed to adhere to standards, but that work is done. What now is the role of the SFT? Is marketing the role of a quango? Some of the advice the trust gives I think LACA could certainly provide. The next step is to get numbers up and more people benefiting from a school meal and that's not the role of a quango.
How would you like to see LACA move forward?
Our membership is changing as there are less group contracts, both in the public and private sector. There will be more individual schools and so the core LACA membership is in flux. As an organisation, LACA needs to reposition itself so that it can offer support, assistance and networking to this changing audience that will be more fractured and fragmented.
In terms of what it delivers, we need to ensure that LACA continues to be the government's adviser on the school meals agenda. We need to continue to lobby government in order to advance the interests of children receiving school meals, with the school meal seen as an accepted tool to help children receive their full potential and maintain their health.
BEVERLEY BAKER'S LACA CAREER
1990 Became an early LACA member, number 11 whilst Head of Catering for Surrey county Council
2000 2002 LACA chair
2005 Represented LACA on Government working group to produce report Turning the Tables: Transforming School Food
2006 Appointed in own capacity to the first board of the School Food Trust
2009 Re-appointed LACA chair
2010 Winner of the Public Sector Caterer Catey Award
On winning the Public Sector Caterer Catey Award, sponsored by Apetito
"To win was an amazing honour and a surprise. It's a highly valued acknowledgment from my peers and I must give credit to my team. I have an excellent, hard working management team who do great things in Surrey and I'd like to pay tribute to them. I couldn't achieve anything without my team."