FIREFIGHTERS were on standby to deliver school meals after one of the country’s biggest construction companies went into liquidation.

Oxfordshire County Council rallied personnel to ensure primary school children did not go hungry today, following the collapse of construction giant Carillion.

The company revealed it will go into liquidation following failed crunch talks, jeopardising hundreds of jobs in Oxfordshire’s schools, hospitals and prison.

The council has now pledged to take on cleaning and catering at its council-run schools, previously outsourced to Carillion. 

Its director for property, assets and investment Alexandra Bailey said: “We are confident no child will go hungry at school.”

The council said it ‘had been planning for the possibility of Carillion’s collapse for some time’, having cut much of its 10-year contract short in July.

Carillion provided catering or cleaning, or both, at 101 Oxfordshire schools, employing 250 people.

Firefighters were poised to dish out school dinners in their absence, but all staff members turned up.

In response, the county council gave 30 sandwiches to homelessness charity Aspire Oxford. 

The rest will be retained in case they are needed tomorrow. If not they will also go to homelessness charity Pathways Oxford

Oxford Mail:

Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust uses 400 Carillion staff in ‘vital’ roles at its hospitals, including cleaning. 

Both organisations agreed to cover staff’s pay. 

The company’s workforce provides meals to 18,000 pupils in 90 schools, mostly primaries, and was due to continue this until March 31.

Those at schools controlled by the local authority will keep their jobs through the council, employed in-house.

About 80, however, are at academies, and the multi-academy trust in charge of those schools will decide whether to keep them on.

Oxford West and Abingdon MP Layla Moran said she was ‘seriously worried’ about the impact of Carillion’s demise on schools, stressing the ‘critical’ importance of clean classes and full stomach to aid learning. 

Carillion was also used for school building projects, until the council pulled out of the deal last year.

Ms Moran said Carillion was ‘frankly absolutely atrocious’ during expansion at Botley School, where she is a governor, noting bad delays and poor communication.

Lynn Knapp, headteacher at Windmill Primary School in Headington, said: “We had a big expansion and Carillion was appalling.

“We had to redesign the building because of delays.”

Six Carillion employees in the school’s kitchen will keep their jobs via the council.

When headteachers complained to the Oxford Mail in 2014, the council said Carillion was 'keen to improve'.

Concerns were raised last year about Carillion’s maintenance contract at HMP Bullingdon near Bicester.

The Ministry of Justice said maintenance projects would continue and prisons would ‘operate without any unexpected change’.

A report by Bullingdon’s Independent Monitoring Board last year was critical of Carillion, highlighting ‘substandard maintenance that impinges on fair and decent treatment of prisoners’.

Another of the company's Oxfordshire contracts was with Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which said its 400-strong Carillion workforce was ‘vital and highly-valued'.

They carry out portering, patient catering and cleaning in the hospitals, and run a help desk at the John Radcliffe Hospital.

Paul Brennan, the trust's director of clinical services, said: “Patients continue to be provided with safe, high quality care.

“All staff remain employed and will be paid as normal.”

CarillionAmey, which maintains Ministry of Defence residential estates such as RAF Brize Norton, said it would not be impacted by its parent company's collapse.

Oxford Mail:

Carillion hospital contracts

Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust use more than 400 Carillion staff members to provide 'vital' services in its hospitals, including running a help desk at the John Radcliffe Hospital. 

It said these services, which include portering, patient catering and cleaning, are 'vital, highly-valued and necessary'.

In a statement it said: "We've been working to ensure that full contingency plans are in place to ensure that, whatever happens, patients continue to be provided with safe, high quality care.

"All staff employed by Carillion at our trust are expected to come into work for their agreed shifts.

"All staff remain employed and will be paid as normal (whether they are directly employed, are employed by an agency or retain employment rights with the trust).

"Staff from Carillion will be available to answer questions at meetings that will be set up in the workplace."

Carillion employs 20,000 workers across Britain, and held key contracts with the Government in the rail industry, education and NHS.

Philip Green, chairman of Carillion, said: "This is a very sad day for Carillion, for our colleagues, suppliers and customers that we have been proud to serve over many years.

"It is with the deepest regret that we have arrived at this decision.

"We understand that HM Government will be providing the necessary funding to maintain the public services carried on by Carillion staff, subcontractors and suppliers."