A DECISION on the future of Barnsley Council’s ‘vital’ school meals service will not be made until next summer, it has been announced.

Backed by trade union UNISON, which represents the council’s catering workers, protesters turned out in their dozens last week to lodge objections to plans which could see 44 schools currently using the service needing to find someone else to provide meals to an estimated 8,000 children across the borough.

Ruling cabinet members were due to make a decision last Wednesday at a behind-closed-doors meeting at Barnsley Town Hall, but it has been confirmed that no decision will be made until council officers have spoken to schools about their plans.

Robin Symonds, from UNISON, said: “This change of approach by the council is very welcome.

“We were very concerned that a decision was due to be made by cabinet on the future of the service as a number of schools had indicated that they had not been consulted.

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“This has now been put right and schools will now have a say on the future of the service before any decision is made.

“About 100 members and supporters attended our protest outside the town hall and we marched through the town centre.

“The leader of the council, Sir Steve Houghton, met with a number of our members and listened to their concerns. He told us of the plans to speak to schools and to try to ensure that the service remains viable.”

The Chronicle understands 94 schools had previously used the council’s service, but 50 left and a further 22 had indicated they were looking for a new provider, leaving 22 primaries.

The council said the smaller the pool is, the less sustainable the provision and it had been left with ‘no choice’ but to review the service.

Robin added: “Ultimately if an insufficient number of schools wish to continue to use the council’s service then there may come a time when it ceases to be viable but in the meantime UNISON will work with the council to ensure that the service is as attractive as possible to schools.

“We know that it represents excellent value for money and that schools really value the service and want to see it continue.

“Now they have the chance to keep the service, something that had looked unlikely.”

Coun Jenny Platts, cabinet spokesman, said talks between the council and schools will continue.

“It is important for us to continue discussions with schools to see if we can work with them to deliver a service which they can make a long-term commitment to,” she added.

“Schools are currently purchasing from a range of suppliers, and by having this period to explore options, we can determine whether a sustainable model can be created.”