Jamie Oliver backed Leeds cooking programme, Ministry of Food, is shelved after 12 years for stop smoking sessions

A Jamie Oliver-backed cooking skills programme in West Yorkshire which teaches people how to cook healthy and affordable meals to help combat health issues is having its funding withdrawn.

The Ministry of Food scheme has been operating in Leeds for the last 12 years but Leeds City Council, which currently funds the scheme, says that the money available would be better spent on smoking cessation sessions.

It comes as the Trussell Trust revealed it provided more than 2.1m parcels across the country, from April 1 2021 to March 31 2022 as more and more people are unable to afford food, heating and adequate housing and last week, Tory MP Lee Anderson said food bank usage has risen because “generation after generation” of people are unable to cook or budget properly.

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Zest, a not-for-profit organisation supporting disadvantaged areas of Leeds says the service, proven to help people increase their confidence in cooking healthy affordable meals and supports long term behaviour change, has been “disinvested”.

Chef Jamie Oliver takes part in the What An Eton Mess demonstration outside Downing Street, London, calling for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to reconsider his U-turn on the Government's anti-obesity strategy.

Dominic Charkin, CEO of Zest, said: “In short disinvesting makes no sense and flies in the face of current city priorities, agendas and plans and supports costly short term decision making rather than proper commitment to the prevention agenda the city is supposed to be working toward.”

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In comparison the yearly cost of treating the 4.5m people with diabetes in the UK is approximately £10bn or around £2,222 per person per year.

Zest was originally contracted by public health in the city directly to deliver the service but in 2016 it was moved into the One You Leeds – Healthy Living Contract, along with smoking cessation, weight management and health trainers. It was then subcontracted by the winning bidder – Reed Wellbeing – to deliver the cooking skills part of the contract, set to run until March 2023, but the City Council Executive Board has decided to reduce the future commissioning budget for Healthy Living Services.

Remaining funds are to be used to procure a stop smoking service as it is felt that this remains the leading cause of preventable illness.

Mr Charkin added: “Obviously we are disappointed with the decision not to re-procure cooking skills under future Healthy Living Services budgets. We are immensely proud of the work we have done over the past 12 years and are exploring every avenue to ensure that there is a future for cooking skills in the city. The model we currently run supports long term behaviour change through increasing confidence in preparing healthy affordable meals and supports the city’s ambitions to improve health and wellbeing.

“With record rates of diet related ill health and the cost of living beginning to bite, supporting cooking skills has never been more important.”

Coun Salma Arif, Leeds City Council’s Executive Member for Public Health & Active Lifestyles said: “Every time a contract comes to an end we are required to go through a commissioning process to select a provider and ensure we are getting value for money for our residents. We are working hard with NHS partners to try to ensure weight management services continue to be provided. We have made the decision to prioritise a stop smoking service from next year, as smoking remains the leading cause of preventable illness and premature death in Leeds.”