Government fails to fund free school meals

By Laurence Gibbons contact

- Last updated on GMT

Councils and schools have had to divert money from other budgets after Government failed
Councils and schools have had to divert money from other budgets after Government failed

Related tags: Local government

Councils and schools have had to divert money from other budgets to ensure all pupils aged seven and under receive free school meals when the school year begins, because of lack of government funding.

Government funding has fallen short in almost half of local authority areas in England, the Local Government Association (LGA) claimed in a new report.

Councils short of money said the shortfall would be made up by them, schools or from general school funding intended for school repairs and maintenance.

‘Not provided’

Cllr David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said central government had not provided schools with enough money to give 1.5M 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,”​ he added.

“Councils and schools have been working really hard to make thishappen within this ambitious timescale. But it cannot be right that for some councils, money set aside for maintenance has instead had to be spent plugging the shortfall in money which government should have provided for meals.”

Free nutritious meals for pupils have been shown to raise attainment and improve children’s health, he added. Children aged between four and seven will be entitled to a free meal when the new school year starts, in less than three weeks’ time.

The LGA estimates councils without enough money have had to find an average of £488,000 each to ensure all pupils will get the meals.

Councils are warning this could lead to squeezes on spending, risking unintended consequences on school maintenance budgets.

Essential work

Councils were given £150M from central government to fund essential capital work – such as building new kitchens – for schools to prepare meals.

As well as distributing this money and providing extra funds, councils have been working closely with schools and caterers to offer advice and support in the run-up to the new school year.

“When the youngest pupils go back to school next month, their mums and dads will expect them to receive a free and nutritious meal,” ​Simmonds said. “Some councils already provided this service, and now that it has become government policy we are determined to ensure every child is provided for.”

The LGA’s survey found:

  • 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 – needed to ensure maintained schools in their area were ready to deliver universal infant free school meals.
  • In areas without enough money, 49% said the council would contribute to the shortfall.
  • 37% said at least some of the shortfall would come from school funds.

The LGA conducted an online survey of chief finance officers in the 150 single and upper-tier English councils in LGA membership. The survey was open between June 20 2014 and August 6 2014, achieving an overall response rate of 53%.

Related topics: People & Skills

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