Scotland’s Education Secretary has told a Tayside council to rethink its cost-cutting plans for frozen school dinners.
John Swinney said he does not have confidence in Perth and Kinross Council’s new meals strategy because of the impact on food quality and local jobs.
A councillor in charge of the plan invited critics to try the meals before speaking out.
The Scottish Conservative-led authority agreed in January to close primary school kitchens and import blast-frozen meals from Dundee, as part of a bid to make £200,000 of catering savings.
Asked about the plan in Holyrood, Perthshire North MSP Mr Swinney said: “It causes me a great deal of concern because I think it undermines the quality of produce that is able to be delivered in individual schools.
“It also affects employment and sustainability in a number of localities.
“I do hope that the local authority reflects carefully on all of these questions as it comes to conclusions on this point, because from what I have seen I have not sufficient confidence in the arrangements that have been set out to justify the changes that are being made.”
The move, which was narrowly supported by the council’s lifelong learning committee on January 31, will lead to catering job losses.
Fifty staff are affected, with the council saying most of those roles diverted to meet the demands of increased free childcare.
Nine positions that are not being redeployed will be lost through natural staff turnover.
Meals are to be cooked by Tayside Contracts staff in Dundee, before being blast-frozen and delivered to lunch halls for reheating.
The plan was hatched as the Perth-based council looks to make about £52 million of cuts over the next three years.
Mark Ruskell, the Mid Scotland and Fife MSP for the Scottish Greens, raised the issue in the Scottish Parliament.
“I urge the council to reconsider this retrograde decision and commit to protecting local jobs, supporting Perthshire farmers, and prioritising the health of our children,” he said afterwards.
Caroline Shiers, the convener of lifelong learning at Perth and Kinross Council, said those wanting to pass comment the quality of the meals should try them first.
“As with any change we appreciate there are concerns but we are learning from the successful roll-out of this same model at Clackmannanshire and Glasgow City councils,” the Conservative said.
“To help people adapt to this change Tayside Contracts will be working with schools to arrange further tasting sessions, so that parents and pupils can try the pre-prepared and cooked from frozen food for themselves before this is rolled out.”
Responding to Mr Swinney’s comments, Ms Shiers added: “I would suggest anyone concerned about this tries the food for themselves before making comment on the quality.”