English councils report £25m shortfall on free school meals programme

Aug 20, 2014 by

The government’s flagship free school meals programme is in disarray as councils and schools have not received enough cash in time for the new school year beginning next month, according to a study.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said government funding to bring school kitchens up to scratch had fallen short in almost half of local authority areas in England. The shortfall among councils that responded to the survey totalled £25.8m, and the national total is likely to be significantly higher.

The scheme, which aims to provide all pupils in the first years of primary education in England with free school meals, was announced by Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, at the Lib Dem annual conference in September 2013. The programme has been dogged by scepticism from the start, with many doubting that the ambitious timetable could be met.

David Laws, the Liberal Democrat schools minister, has admitted that some schools will have to provide only cold food initially until extra kitchens have been completed. The government has committed an extra £150m to fund new kitchens and dining rooms.

However, the LGA survey found that 47% of councils said they had not received enough money from the Department for Education to cover the full cost of work such as kitchen improvements. Those that were short of money said the balance would be found either by them, by schools or from general school funding intended for repairs and maintenance

“Councils and schools have been working really hard to make this happen within this ambitious timescale,” said David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA’s children and young people board. “This research makes it clear central government has not provided schools with enough money to do the essential work necessary to give 1.5 million children a free meal at lunchtime. It is councils and schools who are picking up the bill for this work, at a time when budgets are already squeezed and tough decisions are being taken.”

via English councils report £25m shortfall on free school meals programme | Education | The Guardian.

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