Industry still hopeful on future of school fruit and veg scheme despite white paper omission

The Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC) remains hopeful over the long-term future of the School Fruit & Vegetable Scheme (SFVS), even though the project was not mentioned in the Government's white paper on public health.

The white paper, Healthy Lives, Healthy People, sets out the strategy for Public Health England - the reformed health system expected to be in place by April 2013.

The FPC received confirmation from the Government at the end of November that the SFVS - which since its inception in 2004 has seen all fourto six-year-old primary school children receive a free piece of fruit or a vegetable each school day - remains secure and will continue as it stands with a central procurement scheme until 2013.

But primary care trusts, which from April this year became responsible for the finances behind the SFVS, will cease to exist under the new health system.

A decision on how the scheme will be funded and delivered from 2013 has yet to be made. Ministers will discuss the options next year and there will not be a public consultation on future funding unless significant changes are proposed.

The FPC said: "There is no specific reference to the SFVS in the white paper and we are aware that there will be a number of options to be discussed with regard to its future funding and delivery.

"The Department of Health (DoH) is to publish a consultation following the white paper on the details of the proposed funding and commission routes for public health. We will look closely at this and take part in the consultation.

"We understand ministers are very supportive of the scheme, and with Sir Philip Green's report recommending central procurement there is strong support for this.

"We recognise that there might still be pressure on the continuation of the central procurement process for the scheme beyond 2013 and the FPC will persist in calling for its secure future."

A DoH official said: "The scheme remains in its current format for the next financial year - 1 April 2011 to 31 March 2012. Discussions will take place during 2011-12 to look at the future re the changing NHS structure and the public health ring-fenced budget (within the context of the public health white paper due shortly). Any change will happen from 1 April 2012 (for the 2012-13 financial year)."

The FPC successfully secured the short-term future of the SFVS - a third of the fruit for which comes from UK growers - after months of fierce campaigning.

Future options for the management of the SFVS will include an England-wide national fund with central procurement or for a devolved option, with the accountability for funds mandatory or discretionary at a local level.

NEW HEALTH SERVICE

There are hints in the report as to the fate of the scheme, such as a reference to decentralisation - "We will create the right system and incentives to free up local communities to improve health" - and a statement that "centralisation has failed".

Other statements indicate the scope for some centralised elements of public health.

The report also states that families will be supported to make informed choices about diet and levels of physical activity and "the Department of Health (DoH) will broaden the Change4Life programme to take a more holistic approach to childhood issues," and "the DoH will maintain existing standards for school food".


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