Community Meals Service to continue with hot meals

Written by on 26th January 2023

Following a recent public consultation, Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s Cabinet Members have agreed to retain the council-run Community Meals Service, which provides hot meals to service users, with a renewed model.

Options for the future of the service, which is known as Meals on Wheels, were brought forward due to the significant financial pressures faced by councils across Wales. This is due to increased food and energy costs relating to the Community Meals Service.

At the Cabinet meeting on Monday, January 23, Members considered the feedback received during the recent consultation, which ran across five weeks from December 5, 2022, to January 9, 2023. The process gave residents an opportunity to have their say on four potential options for the service’s future, which included the Council’s preferred option that would retain the service.

This option would reorganise the internal service and offer the choice between either a hot meal or frozen pre-prepared meal (where requested) to be delivered to the homes of service users, with Community Meals Service staff continuing to undertake welfare checks. It would also increase charges by 50p per meal (to £4.55). The remodelled service would operate at a cost of £6.28 per meal, benefitting from a Council subsidy of £1.73. It would still provide a valuable and worthwhile service.

The preferred option retains staff welfare checks, and also offers the choice between a hot or a frozen meal (where requested) to be delivered. No service user would be required to heat up their meal unless they choose to.

Officers advised that the £4.55 cost to prepare and deliver a meal would remain highly competitive in comparison to private providers and neighbouring Local Authorities.

A full summary of the consultation responses is included in the Cabinet report. Having considered the feedback in full, Cabinet Members agreed to proceed with the preferred option to retain the service with a renewed delivery model.

Councillor Rhys Lewis, Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s Cabinet Member for Education, Youth Participation and the Welsh Language, said: “I’d like to thank residents for taking time to respond in the recent Community Meals Service consultation. We received 416 responses via the online survey, plus several emails and calls – and the feedback they provided was considered when Cabinet made its final decision on the future of the service on Monday.

“The proposals were brought forward in light of the financial challenges faced by all councils. In September, the Medium Term Financial Plan reported that a large budget gap would likely be faced for 2023/24. The updated position is a £38.3m gap, despite a favourable provisional Local Government Settlement.

“The current Community Meals Service is unviable if no changes were made, due to increased food and energy costs, and a decreasing number of service users. The service is discretionary and not all Local Authorities run one, but we understand how important it is, particularly for vulnerable service users – which is why Cabinet put forward a preferred option to retain the service.

“This option would retain a worthwhile service that is competitive in price at £4.55 for a delivered meal, maintains vital social contact for vulnerable people and offers the choice of a hot or frozen meal. These themes were highlighted as important in the consultation feedback, and I’d like to reassure residents that these valued aspects of the current service will be retained – including providing a hot meal for those who need one, and staff welfare checks.

“Officers were also able to give assurances on several key issues that Cabinet Members raised in Monday’s meeting. Firstly, I requested that an assessment be carried out to ensure all service users have access to cooking appliances for heating meals in their homes should they opt for frozen meals to be delivered. Officers also assured the service’s meal supplier offers a wide range of quality products for users, including a main meal and a desert.

“Having weighed up all factors relating to this matter and taking into account Council budget pressures, Cabinet reluctantly agreed to proceed with the preferred option. However, an option to end the Community Meals service was a reality that was considered and rejected by Cabinet, so in that respect I am pleased that the agreed option strikes the right balance to ensure we can maintain our very worthwhile service here in Rhondda Cynon Taf, at a competitive price.”

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