We’ll bring in free school meals for all – but not the opposition’s half baked plan which would see our kids go hungry
March 6, 2014 by Lutfur
You may be aware of the recent debate over free school meals provision in Tower Hamlets. Under my mayoralty, Tower Hamlets has led the way as one of the first boroughs to introduce universal free school meals for infants. The government has since adopted this as a national policy, funding meals for all infants across the country.
So now I’m proud to announce that we will be extending this provision to all primary school children, from Reception to Year 6.
This is fantastic news: all data shows that universal free school meals provision results in a dramatic improvement not only in pupils’ health but in educational attainment.
The Opposition have falsely claimed on social media sites that rather than introducing universal free school meals, this administration has blocked the policy. This could not be further from the truth.
The Labour Party’s budget was clearly cobbled together on the back of an envelope, and they seem to have mistakenly funded meals for the financial year rather than the academic year! They put aside £1.3m, but the council’s expert officials have calculated that the real cost will be £2.3m! To risk our kids going hungry from April for an election stunt is beyond contempt. That is why we have turned down their half-baked plan – and for maximum transparency, I’ve reproduced the civil servants’ detailed analysis of it below.
However, I pledge to you that we will bring forward a properly costed alternative at the next meeting of Council that will see all our kids in primary schools receive free meals from this year onwards.
OFFICERS’ COMMENTS ON ALTERNATIVE BUDGET PROPOSAL
BY THE LABOUR PARTY
The following sets our comments by officers
on a proposal offered up in the budget amendment. Members of the Council should take this advice into
consideration when considering and debating the amendment in question.
To provide Universal free school meals for all primary age pupils from September 2014 – £1.3m
Corporate Director’s Comments
Schools currently pay for pupils who are eligible for statutory free school meals through their devolved budgets. Currently, the Public Health Grant meets the cost of a lunchtime meal for pupils in Reception to Year 1 who are not otherwise eligible.
From September 2014, the Department for Education will pay for a meal at lunchtime for all pupils in Reception – Year 2 for those pupils not otherwise eligible. This will be funded through a specific grant.
In order to pay for meals for those in Years 3 – 6 who are not otherwise eligible, this is estimated to cost £2.321m in a full academic year. This is based on 6,784 pupils currently in Years 3-6, not eligible for statutory free school meals at £2.30 per meal for 78.3% (ie current) take-up.
Pupil numbers will fluctuate, as will take-up. Younger year-groups are larger than older ones, so a steady rise can be expected over time. If take-up was at 90%, the costs would rise by £0.347min a full year.
The additional costs of the meals is not the only consideration, however. It is extremely difficult to determine the burden on schools if all pupils were to have a free meal however the expectation is that additional supervision will be required in the dining hall and timetables will need to be reviewed to ensure all pupils have sufficient time to eat which may require staggered lunch breaks.
There would be less of a burden on schools if they were not collecting cash and the use of appropriate software – in conjunction with the kitchen may ease the administration. Schools may need to purchase additional dining furniture.
From a catering service’s point of view additional staffing would be required along with additional light and heavy equipment and in some instances (dependent on a site by site review) additional space. Some sites may require additional electrical and gas supply installations.
It is likely that a project officer would be required to carry a full feasibility of each site if this project was to move forward.
Any additional comments of the Chief Financial Officer
The direct costs of this initiative are estimated to be £2.321m in a full year. So, for 2014/15 financial year (ie from September 2014 to March 2015), the estimated cost would be around £1.354m (ie 7/12ths of the full-year cost). If the initiative ran for the full academic year, this would require a further £0.967m in 2015/16 financial year. The actual costs will be dependent on actual pupil numbers and the level of take-up.
Cabinet on 5th February 2014 considered a proposal to allocate £1.3m over two financial years for a Women into Employment initiative which would use the Public Health Grant released by the introduction of the national FSM scheme for R-Y2 pupils. If this were not to proceed, it would cover the first £1.3m of the cost of this alternative proposal, leaving £0.967m to find if it runs for a full academic Year.
There are likely to be costs on schools associated with what might be a stepped change in the number of pupils accessing a meal at lunchtime, but these will vary from school to school and no estimates are readily available.
There may need to be some capital investment if school facilities are insufficient to meet the requirements and the DfE has allocated £0.748m school meals capital grants for Tower Hamlets (including £0.157m for VA schools) for 2014/15, which might be used to deliver this.