Ban on school cake sales?

The days of mums selling home baking at the school fete could be numbered because of fears over liability for E.coli poisoning, one of Scotland's leading parent groups has warned.

The Scottish Parent Teacher Council has expressed serious concerns that members of the new parent councils may be left personally liable for accidents, financial loss and other damages, if new arrangements are not reached on public liability insurance.

The organisation, which specialises in providing parent teacher associations with such cover, is concerned that the Parental Involvement Act has failed to tackle the issue. Even if new councils are brought under local authority insurance schemes, the SPTC is worried about restrictions on activities such as selling home baking.

Judith Gillespie, its development manager, said: "Many local authorities are nervous about letting school groups provide food, even home-made cakes, in case they result in cases of food poisoning for which the authority is then held liable. However, if the parent council is separately insured, it is much clearer that it is responsible for its own actions and is quite separate from the local authority.

"Indeed, on the matter of food poisoning, the current policy that is part of our PTA membership scheme makes it quite clear that this is covered.

"Moreover, many local authorities have high excess levels. We heard recently from a PTA, who had sought to have a piece of equipment insured by the local authority, that the excess was pound;2,500, or five times the value of the piece of equipment."

The SPTC has approached all 32 education directors on the issue. Bruce Robertson, director of education for Highland Council and vice-president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, responded positively.

"This seems a very helpful and sensible offer and one which I am sure many authorities and schools would be interested in. There are likely to be shadow arrangements developing in most council areas and until a national body representing parent councils is established, this could fill a vacuum," Mr Robertson said.

While many of the new parent councils will not be functioning before August next year - the date set down by the new act - many parents may choose to to set up an interim body and would need cover. Once the new councils are set up formally, it could take a further year before a new national body is established to look after their interests and which might take on the role of providing public liability insurance.

School boards, which will cease to exist in their current form under the new legislation, have traditionally been covered by local authorities.

However, the new act has no comparable provision.

The SPTC's financial position is also vulnerable. Its only source of funding is its sale of public liability cover to its PTA members.

"We are facing an incredibly difficult period - if we lose half our membership because they merge with the new parent councils, we will not be financially viable but will still have to provide a service to the other half of our members," Mrs Gillespie said.

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