There ‘wasn’t time or inclination’ to consult over the decision to take control away from schools for catering, caretaking and maintenance, the Education Minister told MHKs.
Tim Crookall came under fire in the House of Keys over a government policy to save £4m a year by bringing staff and budgets together in shared services, with catering centralised within the new Department of Health and Social Care from April 1, and caretaking joining maintenance in the Department of Infrastructure.
Replying to a question from Michael MHK Alfred Cannan, Mr Crookall said: ‘Given that the decision affected significant numbers of employees it was not possible to consult with head teachers prior to those employees being informed.’
He said there wasn’t the time or the inclination to consult fully as it was ‘something that had been decided’. ‘Yes, it could have been handled better,’ he said.
The Minister said senior officers from his department had met with all primary and secondary head teachers on Monday January 20 – two days before the policy was confirmed in Tynwald – to discuss the move to shared services in caretaking, catering and cleaning.
But Brenda Cannell (Douglas East) said the change in policy had been presented as a fait accompli. ‘That’s hardly proper consultation,’ she said.
Mr Cannan said the majority of head teachers supported the principle of devolved management and its removal undermined their ability to spend locally, which could result in imported food being served in school canteens. ‘Isn’t it the responsibility of government to focus on building the community of our island?’ he asked.
In a written reply to a question from Mr Cannan on the same issue, Treasury Minister Eddie Teare said the health department’s catering budget for 2013/14 will be £1.6m net. The catering balance to be transferred in to the Department of Health and Social Care is a net amount of £0.9m (based on total gross expenditure of £4.8m and gross income of £3.9m). The number of catering staff will increase from 45.57 full time equivalents to 166.25 after the transfer.
Mr Teare said target savings of £200,000 (7.8 per cent of net spending) have been applied to the total in 2014-15.
In a written reply to a Tynwald question last month, Chief Minister Allan Bell said some island secondary schools have stopped using Manx bread. He said there was no government policy requiring departments to use Manx produce. The prison, too, has stopped using Manx bread as have some care homes.