Free school meals for children might seem great for caterers, but this policy is too simplistic to be sustainable, says Cucina chief executive Steve Quinn
The Deputy Prime Minister recently announced that from next September all infants in English primary schools will receive a free school meal each day.
My company Cucina has some primary school contracts and this initiative will have some beneficial effect on our turnover and profits, but I'm not joining in with the general rejoicing at this news.
The government is going to spend £600m supporting a vast â¨number of people who don't need support. What else is this but â¨a monumental waste of money?
A little more incisive thinking before this decision was made would have made it clear that this issue is not just about cost - a pointâ¨I made recently in a piece for one of our â¨leading education journals.
If cost were the only factor, why didn't we see 100% uptake when universal free school meal schemes were trialled in Scotland and Hull? In both instances, the figures hovered around 60-70%.
Let's agree - healthy eating is about much more than cost. Universal benefit schemes like this one betray simplistic thinking and smack of political opportunism.
In years gone by, a blanket approach to â¨policy-making was common. But surely, in this more enlightened era of personalised learning based on individual need, we deserve educational policies to match?
If £600m is available, why not target more specific needs? Why not allocate a set amount â¨to schools so they can better address the nutritional requirements of children in most needâ¨ of support?
Or why not put a chef and better kitchen facilities into every school in the country? We would have children queuing up for fantastic food created on-site and uptake would go through the roof. All primary school children would benefit, and it would be a fraction of the cost. It would also have a beneficial effect on the economy by creating thousands of new jobs.
So let's think again about a government â¨initiative that, at first glance, sounds like a good idea, but is really a headline-grabbing, short-term solution which gives money to a vast number of people who don't need it.