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Jones: School meals partnership must be non-profit

Students at Blackman and Gollop Primary buying oranges.

For there to be any kind of public/private sector partnership in the provision of school meals services, it cannot be a profit-making venture.

Minister of Education Ronald Jones made this announcement earlier today moments after planting two custard apple trees at the Blackman and Gollop Primary and Thelma Berry Nursery schools in a continuation of celebrations marking 50 years of free universal education in Barbados.

His comments came in response to a media query about the possibility of Government partnering with the private sector in areas like the provision of school meals to help cut some of the expense in the education sector.

Jones responded that while public/private sector partnerships were welcomed, in areas like the provision of social services unless it was done with a mind toward philanthropy, it would not work.

“Barbados has been set up in such a way over time that the social safety net is important to all of us. The notion of private/public partnerships, unless the private entity brings what you could call a philanthropy mechanism into it, it means then that the state would have to parcel out to the private sector, certain parts of care giving which is including meals for those who need it.

“We would have to look and see, because private sector essentially does not do anything free in that way. They make donations yes, but they do not take on the total challenge, it is always a money venture that they look at and even if you do private/public partnerships which we have done in the past in other areas of Barbadian activity, you would have to see what is going to be the overall cost,” Jones expounded.

Even though it was possible for private agencies to take on the charge of providing a service like school meals, the challenge was that it would soon become prohibitive to those who most needed it because of cost, he posited.

While Government spends in the region of $31.6 million subsidising school meals each year, Jones noted that from the $1 weekly contribution that children were asked to make, and which even some families could not afford, they were only able to collect about $600,000.

The next challenge, he maintained would be cutting down on the wastage, which did not necessarily refer to any meals left at the end of the day.

Most of the budget for school meals, he said, was spent in the purchasing and preparation.

“There is also some loss in the programme, that loss I can’t at this point quantify, but I know we have to look and see how the stock purchase is utilised, if there is any spoilage, the elimination of spoilage, so that all the food purchased goes to the children who need it,” he stated. (LB)

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