A row over school meals funding has broken out in Scotland after the Scottish Government announced plans to introduce free meals at primary schools from 2010.
Although operators have been broadly positive about the move, with Jan Matthews, divisional director for education at caterer Avenance, describing the news as "a real step forward for the industry", the Labour opposition claims there is not enough money available to fund the initiative.
Estimates put the annual cost of introducing free school meals for the 163,000 eligible pupils aged five to seven at up to £50m. The extra cash will need to come from the three-year £34.9b funding pot already allocated to Scottish councils to run local services.
The Scottish Labour party has said half of Scotland's 32 councils will not be able to afford to introduce free school meals without additional funding.
Iain Gray, Scottish Labour leader, said: "It is clear that 50% of councils say they can't afford this policy without extra funds - including four councils with Scottish National Party (SNP) members as part of their leadership. Labour will back the policy if the money is provided to pay for it."
The SNP hit back, claiming the attack was "politically motivated". A spokeswoman told Caterersearch that the existing funding package was always intended to cover the cost of free school meals in the event of successful pilots. She added that the annual cost would be closer to £30m.
Fergus Chambers, executive director of direct and care services in Glasgow, who estimated the initiative will cost his council £2.4m a year, is not convinced it will successfully combat childhood obesity.
"The theory that, if you teach primary children good nutrition this will follow through to adult life is yet to be proven," he told Caterersearch. "We may still find that secondary school children exercise their current right to move about and leave school canteens in their droves to head for local shops and takeaways."
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By Chris Druce
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