Scotland will struggle with free school meals commitment

20 November 2009 by
Scotland will struggle with free school meals commitment

Recommendations that all Scottish primary school children should be given free meals have been criticised by catering experts, who question how the initiative could be funded.

A source close to Scottish local authority caterers said that while many councils were sympathetic to the government's plans to extend free meals to all primary year-one, two and three children from next August, there were concerns about where the funding - estimated to be around £80m - could be found.

He said: "Frankly, what with the economic downturn and the £500m reduction in the Scottish budget, the money is just not there."

The issue was now becoming a "political football", he added, with the Scottish government and local authorities disputing the commitments made in the 2007 Scottish government and local authority's spending review concordat.

"Since the agreement was signed, the economic downturn has happened. Local authorities are now faced with very difficult decisions to make in the face of fiscal constraints. Each local authority will have to come up with its own proposals as I don't think free provision for all can happen across the board."

Catering consultant Vic Laws, director of AVL Consultancy, said the idea of free meals for all was "completely untenable".

"Targets need to be set that are achievable, not pie in the sky," he added. "Everyone agrees more children should have free meals, but there's no point giving them to bankers' kids."

Fergus Chambers, managing director of Glasgow City Council's school meals' provider, Cordia, said: "Glasgow is currently considering its budget for 2010 and it has yet to be formalised. School meals provision is an important but relatively small part of that budget process."

Roberta Blackman-Woods, MP for Durham, whose constituency has been part of the UK government's free school meals trial, said: "I believe free universal school meals could help improve children's health, help attainment levels by stimulating concentration after lunchtime and assist hard-pushed family finances at this difficult time."

However, Laws suggested a more targeted approach, such as automatic entitlement for those on benefits.

School dinner round-up >>

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By Emily Manson

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