Another Welsh Council agrees funding for free school meals during summer holiday
Elgan Hearn – Local Democracy Reporter
Youngesters in Blaenau Gwent will continue to receive free school meals over the summer holidays – despite the Welsh Government scrapping funding for the scheme.
At a meeting of Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council on Thursday, July 20, councillors unanimously supported a proposal to use £300,000 from the council’s general reserves to fund the scheme.
At the end of June, the Welsh Government told councils across Wales that it would be stopping the support the payment of free school meal holiday payments.
Funding for free school meals during holidays by the Welsh Government started in March 2020 as part of the Covid-19 pandemic response.
But now the government has said it doesn’t have money to support the scheme anymore.
The figure of £300,000 is based on the calculation that £19.50 is needed per child every week over the six week period.
In Blaenau Gwent 2,626 children claimed the direct payment during the May 2023 half-term, when the Welsh Government scheme was last run.
The agreement of councillors was needed “due to the late notification” of the decision to stop the funding from the Welsh Government and to give families “advance warning” that the scheme would not be happening in future.
The report said: “Vulnerable families have indicated that the funding of £19.50 per child, per week has been invaluable in supporting them to purchase food items during school holidays and in the current cost of living crisis.”
Cabinet member for education, Labour’s Cllr Sue Edmunds, told the meeting that if the council decided to fund payments during the holidays themselves by building it into future budgets, the cost would be £700,000.
Cllr Lee Parsons (Independent) welcomed the plan.
“This directive has come from the Welsh Government and hopefully they will have a change of heart by December, and they will reinstate the funding,” he said.
Deputy leader of the Independent group, Cllr Wayne Hodgins said: “We are on the ground here and see the struggles and cost of living pressures that families face.”
He added that the Welsh Government had heaped pressure onto local authorities “depleted resources” by stopping the funding.
Council leader Labour’s Cllr Steve Thomas said: “We have been reeling from the cost of living, energy costs inflation and everything over the last year as are the Welsh Government.”
He explained that strong arguments had been put to the Welsh Government to continue the funding but “they found they couldn’t fund it.”
Cllr Thomas said: “There was some brinkmanship as I would rather them (Government) fund this than us.
“I knew that everybody in Blaenau Gwent wanted to feed those children and as the cabinet member has already declared we’ll have to consider this when we consider our budgets in late winter.”
Councillors unanimously approved the decision.
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