£1.8m funding agreed for free school meals in Central Bedfordshire

Extra £60k to provide meals – plus value of food vouchers will be increased
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Around £1.8m funding to help vulnerable families is being committed by Central Bedfordshire Council to support free school meal provision, a meeting heard.

An extra £60,000 funded from new homes bonus reserves will provide free meals for eligible children during the next two school holidays.

And the value of food vouchers locally will be increased to £17.50, costing almost £1.1m for the next six months, on top of the £700,000 from the last household support fund round.

Many children go hungry without access to school mealsMany children go hungry without access to school meals
Many children go hungry without access to school meals

A motion to a CBC meeting from Independent Flitwick councillor Gareth Mackey called for a budget uplift of ten per cent of the £6.6m school meals settlement for 2022/23.

The Conservative run local authority was criticised by several Independent opposition councillors, after referring this issue to its executive without debate because of the financial implications.

Conservative Cranfield and Marston Moretaine councillor Sue Clark told the committee: “CBC has services in place already to improve access to quality food for vulnerable young people.

“That’s through the work of our children’s centres and public health healthy eating initiatives,” she explained. “The way free school meals are funded and catering supplies are commissioned, extra funding is unlikely to have the desired effect.

“This aim can be achieved through direct and indirect initiatives. We’ve continued to provide vouchers through the school holidays, which support around 7,000 children.

“There’s the holiday activities and food programme, which provides a free healthy lunch for families. More than 3,000 children are registered already on the Christmas programme.

“This winter, we’re introducing a new crisis fund of £45,000 specifically for families in need of support and administered by our nine children’s centres.

“They know and have worked with the most vulnerable children and families in our communities. They also liaise with our health and education partners, which can refer families.

“Any struggling family can visit the children’s centres and ask for help on a whole range of things. Funding of advice centres and foodbanks provides indirect help,” added executive member for families, education and children councillor Clark.

“It’s proposed to increase the value of free school meal holiday vouchers from £15 to £17.50 per child, per week. We’ll keep our initiatives under close review.”

Conservative Arlesey councillor David Shelvey said: “Dedicated schools grant for meals isn’t ring-fenced specifically for food.

“They’re only obliged to supply children eligible for free school meals with lunch every day. CBC couldn’t ensure extra money would be spent on those meals.

“It’s also not possible to target the food choice. It would have to be for all pupils, so spending would be diluted across every child having a school meal.

Schools have catering contracts and would need to agree to amend those. Under regulations, the food should be nutritious already and high quality.

“The costs will be an extra £60,000 for the next two holidays, which will be funded from new homes bonus,” added executive member for corporate resources councillor Shelvey.

“During the next six months, almost £1.1m will go in vouchers on top of the £700,000 from the last household support fund round, which ended in September.”