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Agenda Item No. 11

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Scrutiny Committee (Lifelong Learning): 18th May 2015

 

Report of the Director of Learning and Skills

 

Progress on Implementation of Cashless Catering and Online Payment Systems in Schools

 

Purpose of the Report

1.         To inform Members of progress made with the implementation of cashless catering and online payment systems in schools.  

Recommendation

1.      Members consider the progress made with implementing cashless catering and online payment systems in schools and the benefits of the investment.

Reason for the Recommendation

1.         Members are aware of the position with the roll out of cashless catering and online payments for school meals in Vale schools and of the benefits associated with implementation of these systems.

Background

2.         During 2013 the ESPO Framework No 978 was used by Vale Catering Services for its procurement of a cashless catering solution which enables pupils and staff to load money onto their fob/card via a machine at school prior to purchasing their food.  This means they do not use cash at the counter and do not carry cash around school during the day.  This money can be loaded on a daily, weekly or monthly basis depending on the amount they wish to load.

3.         The cashless catering solution removes the need for pupils to carry cash which can lead to bullying and loss of money when being carried to school.  The cashless solution may also result in increased take up of school meals as readily available cash will not be needed each week.  It removes the need for payment by cheque and the additional administration and processing costs resulting from bounced cheques. School administration is reduced enabling school personnel to reallocate this time to other school business.

4.         The full benefit of the cashless catering system can only be realised if used in conjunction with an integrated online payment system. Whilst it is possible in secondary schools for cash to be loaded onto a fob or card, this option is not suitable in primary schools. Instead, parents would need to make an electronic payment which would be allocated to their child's account. Where cash or cheques are still accepted by schools, the school administrator would need to load payments onto the individual pupil accounts.

5.         The framework included on line payments, but as the catering service were using the Council’s online and telephone payments provision via Northgate PARIS, the intention was to continue with this function once the cashless catering solution was rolled out hence the specification drawn up did not include online payments. 

6.         A survey carried out in August 2013 provided feedback that the majority of parents/ guardians would prefer to pay for school dinners via online payments. Survey responses revealed that whilst the Council’s online and telephone payment facility was available it was slow and often froze before the end of the transaction causing a great deal of frustration and deterring people from using the system.

7.         Following the procurement of the cashless catering solution it became apparent that the Council's online system was not capable of providing the functionality required for parents / guardians who do not have access to a PC/Smartphone.  The Council's system could not provide basic information regarding the balance on individual accounts, purchase of food and more advanced information regarding the nutritional content of food available in schools in relation to the Healthy Eating in Schools Regulation (Wales) 2013, which commenced in September 2013.       

Relevant Issues and Options

8.         Individual schools within the Vale of Glamorgan currently procure and pay annual fees for their chosen communication software provider. There are a number of different companies which have been in use in schools across the Vale.  The communication software provider facilitates communication between the school and parents / guardians via text or telephone messaging and in some instances via email.  Some companies have the facility to provide a financial module to their current system to allow online payments which is chargeable separately.

9.         Parent Pay are one of the companies listed within the ESPO Framework No 978 and are the only company who provide Pay Point facilities for cash based families.  It was identified that the use of Parent Pay would allow all parents / guardians within the Vale of Glamorgan to make electronic payments for school meals.  The prospect of all schools using the same provider would involve one provider depositing cash into the Council’s bank account making traceability less complicated. Following an appraisal of options it was decided to encourage all schools to register with Parent Pay to provide online payments for school meals and other income. Whist online payment options have been promoted, the ability to pay via other channels has not been withdrawn.

10.      Enabling the use of online payments for school meals has the following benefits:

·         It responds to what parents have told us about how they would like to pay for school meals.

·         A reduction in cash transactions and the associated cost of handling cash within schools.

·         A reduction in administration in schools and improved efficiency.

·         Increased take up of school meals due to ease of payment.  

·         Ease of tracking income and reduced outstanding debt.

·         Reduces the stigma of free school meals and the potential for bullying.

·         Able to allocate income payments to individual pupil accounts automatically.

·         Ease of reconciliation of bank statements.

·         Reduces cash collection services (Secondary Schools).

·         Reduce visits to the Post Office to deposit money (Primary Schools)

 

11.      The attached schedule shows progress to date with the implementation of cashless catering and online payments through Parent Pay across the 48 primary, 5 secondary schools and 1 special school which receive a service from the Council.    The cashless catering system has been implemented at 28 schools and the online payment systems at 26 schools.  Appendix 1 shows further scheduled installations.     

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

12.      The estimated cost of £300,000 for the procurement of the cashless catering system has been met from the invest to save capital fund and is repayable by the catering service. It is anticipated that this will be repaid in full during 2015/16.

13.      The installation fee for parent pay is £250 per school and schools then pay an annual fee of £150 plus 80p per pupil. As explained in paragraph 7 of this report, schools are already procuring and paying annual fees for various communication systems and this does not therefore represent an additional cost. A transaction fee of 32p is payable which will be met from the trading account in the case of secondary schools and by the catering service on behalf of the primary schools. This difference in treatment is due to funding for catering being delegated to secondary schools but held centrally for primary schools.   

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

14.      The implementation of cashless catering and online payments will result in improved efficiency and effectiveness and could result in increased income through improved take up of school meals thereby resulting in a more sustainable service in the future.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

15.      There are no legal implications directly arising from this report.

Crime and Disorder Implications

16.      Cashless catering can result in reduced incidence of bullying.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

17.      A cashless catering system is one which removes the use of cash at the point of sale and in doing so treats all pupils the same irrespective of whether they receive free school meals or pay for a meal. This removes the stigma associated with free school meals and could encourage greater take up from those pupils who are entitled to receive them.   

Corporate/Service Objectives

18.      The Council’s Corporate Plan states that the Council will endeavour to "increase the percentage of those interactions with the public which are capable of electronic service delivery that are being delivered using internet protocols or other paperless methods".  (Vale of Glamorgan Council Corporate Plan 2010-2014, revised December 2011). A move towards automated financial transactions for school meals is in line with similar payment strategies developed for the collection of the Authority’s Council Tax payments.

19.      This progresses objective 12 in the Learning and Skills Service Plan 2013/17: to ensure that learning provision meets changing educational needs, and the action LS12/A108: introduce a Vale wide cashless catering and management information system.

Policy Framework and Budget

20.      This report is a matter for Executive decision by the Cabinet.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

21.      Not applicable.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

22.      Lifelong Learning

Background Papers

None.

 

Contact Officer:

Carole Tyley, Catering Manager

 

Officers Consulted

Paula Ham - Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources

Nicola Monckton - Finance Manager

 

Responsible Officer:

Jennifer Hill, Director of Learning and Skills

 

 

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