A massive scandal has broken out in Moscow. Several days before the start of the new school year, directors of dozens of Moscow schools (we have confirmed information about forty) received an odd directive: sack all their catering personnel and dismantle all the equipment. The reason was that the tender to provide school meals had been won by a company called Сonсord, but its triumph turned out to be a failure. On 30 August, with a day and a half to go to the beginning of the school year, representatives of the unfortunate schools were summoned to an office where the owner of Сonсord, restaurateur Prigozhin, told them: something has gone wrong, bring back your cooks and dishwashers until further notice.
So, beginning from 1 September, thousands of Moscow school pupils were left without meals. Was there a dressing-down from Mayor Sobyanin? Or perhaps feeding schoolchildren is no longer a public concern?
None of the above. The answer is simple. Prigozhin is an untouchable. He has close links with the Prime Minister, who once worked at St. Petersburg City Hall. By the way, he owns a restaurant in Government House on Krasnopresnenskaya Embankment.
So, the Primer’s cronies have reached public catering? Perhaps the next step might be to reach out for mice? Where is a state corporation that produces mousetraps?
The scandalous past does not prevent Evgeny Prigozhin, the well-known St. Petersburg restaurateur – who is conquering Moscow and has recently taken up hotel, building and tourist businesses –from living comfortably. He has trials behind him and is involved in several fresh scandals over construction projects in St. Petersburg.
13 years ago, he opened his first restaurant on a boat called New Island. He fed and gave a ride on this boat to IMF President Michelle Camdessus and the then Interior Minister Sergey Stepashin, President Yeltsin and Prince Albert II of Monaco (for whom he personally cooked pelmeni stuffed with vodka and a sorbet of yellow tomatoes) and later Vladimir Putin, together with Japanese Prime Minister Mori and with US President George Bush.
In October 2009, it transpired that an elite private restaurant on the 12th floor of the White House was treating government members to delicacies on the cheap. This was confirmed by the Prime Minister’s press spokesman Dmitry Peskov. Unofficial reports say that the restaurant is run by the company Сonсord, Prigozhin’s brainchild.
His business structures keep employees of the Foreign Ministry, the Moscow offices of Sberbank and Vneshekonombank from starving to death and regularly throw banquets at the Kremlin and cater to guests of international summits.
Evgeny Prigozhin first tried to feed children in St. Petersburg and then the Leningrad Region last year. The children’s parents described his services as dismal. Starting from this September, Сonсord meals are not served in any school in St. Petersburg and the firm has been banned from some schools in the Leningrad Region.
As far back as late 2007, federal officials (involved in the National Education Project) set about improving catering in educational institutions in 14 of the country’s regions. They decided to introduce so-called “innovative on-board lunches” for Russian schoolchildren.
In April 2008, a tender to provide “on-board meals” for 85 schools that lacked canteens of their own was announced in St. Petersburg. There was immediate talk among market participants that the winner would be none other than Сonсord Management and Consulting. There was a lot of envy because the budgets of St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region today allocate almost 2 billion roubles a year for school meals, a sum that attracts many suppliers. They reckon that the monthly turnover for the winner would be at least 100-150 million roubles.
The rivals were proved right: in September 2008, Сonсord Management and Consulting Limited won the tender. The first school catering centre in Russia was launched at Yanino (Vsevolozhsky District of the Leningrad Region) on 20 October 2010.
Starting from last autumn and until this spring, Сonсord meals were delivered from Yanino to schools in St. Petersburg (no more than 40) and the Leningrad Region (no less than 80). Evgeny Prigozhin refused to give our correspondent more exact figures.
Thirty-two schools in Vyborg and the Vyborg District (Leningrad Region) said they had no need for any novelties in their canteens. They were perfectly happy with the public catering centre that had fed their pupils for several years. Even so, in December 2010, the district administration signed a contract with Сonсord to supply frozen meals to several schools that had no canteens of their own.
The price of a meal increased from 54 to 70 roubles and the taste and quality of the food provided to children in the Vyborg District left few people happy.
“Do you want us to stage a protest rally? We will”, the parents of children at local schools threatened at a meeting with the representatives of Сonсord on 24 February 2011.
“We don’t want to listen to you. We reject Сonсord because their food is tasteless. And it is stale.” The women’s shouts not only drowned out the businessmen’s objections: in March 2011, all the Vyborg schools terminated their contracts with the company.
Beginning from the new school year, CupCold meals are not being supplied to any schools in St. Petersburg.
Evgeny PRIGOZHIN, founder and co-owner of the Сonсord group of companies:
This year we will provide ready meals to 270 schools in the Northern and South Eastern Districts of Moscow. We opened a production facility in Klyonovo (Podolsk District, Moscow Region) a month ago. We will start delivering meals to schools from 1 September.
To all schools regularly?
Because we have been made responsible for all the technological processes, things are not, unfortunately, going without a hitch. There are problems with power supply or other things… Perhaps there will be problems at some schools for a few more days. But I think that, by 10 September, we will resolve all the problems. I am now at the production centre. Deliveries are in full swing. Simply the preparation time was too short. The tender for providing school meals was held just two weeks ago.
Do you blame the bureaucrats?
Bureaucrats are not to blame. What do they have to do with it? Tenders are always held at this time of year.
Was it the case that you were short of time?
We were not short of time. We were just a little short of time in some places. But, as of today, all the equipment has been installed in schools. We are working actively to get it going. In some places it will probably take a few days.