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Welsh Conservatives criticise ‘uncosted’ free school meals rollout

08 Sep 2022 3 minute read
Picture by the Welsh Government

The Welsh Conservatives have criticised the government’s free school meals policy, claiming the numbers “do not add up”.

The roll-out of universal free meals to all pupils in primary education in Wales got underway on Wednesday with children aged between four and five who are starting school being offered free meals from this month onwards.

It is part of a phased expansion of school meals to all primary school children in Wales by 2024, about 272,000 children.

Overspend

According to research carried out by the Tories, a significant number of councils expect to overspend their allocation of funding to administer the policy.

Flintshire council is predicting a spend of at least £1.8 million for 2022/23 which would exceed their capital funding grant allocation by over £500,000 and Gwynedd is expecting to spend £1.6 million, a nearly £500,000 overspend.

Newport Council is set to exceed its allocated £1.28 million and plans to hire 22 more kitchen staff and offer additional hours to current staff.

Monmouthshire Council has allocated an estimated £1.6 million for kitchen refurbishments in their 31 primary schools as well as funds for an additional 21 kitchen staff and potentially 14 or more staff on top of this.

This would represent an over £1.3 million overspend of their capital funding grant, so far.

Responding to the figures, Shadow Local Government Minister, Sam Rowlands MS said: “The Welsh Conservatives have argued against this policy on the grounds that a blanket, untargeted approach means spending taxpayers’ cash on feeding the children of those parents who can afford it.

“It seems from these figures that Flintshire, Gwynedd, Newport and Monmouthshire councils are set to overspend, frontloading the costs of this scheme in the expectation that future budget increases will cover the inevitable upcoming shortfalls, which is very distressing.

“The numbers so far do not add up, indicating that this is turning out to be yet another uncosted Labour project set to eat a hole in Wales’ budget and shred councils’ reserves, resulting in less money for other essential frontline services.”

Budget

The Welsh Government has allocated £230 million to the scheme but, with rising food prices, energy and logistics costs, First Minister Drakeford said they would be “watching the budget very carefully”.

Currently an average of 44% of primary school children receive free lunches, although this varies depending on local authority.

Some schools will have to more than double their capacity to serve hot meals.

The scheme was one of the key commitments in the Labour and Plaid Cymru co-operation agreement signed last year.

Responding to the figures quoted by Mr Rowlands, a Welsh Government spokesperson said: “These figures are out of date. They do not take into account the additional £35m that we have since provided on top of the funding already available. We are committed to making sure no child goes hungry in school.

“As well as supporting families during the cost of living crisis, offering free school meals to all primary school pupils will help tackle the stigma associated with targeted support, increase uptake of healthy, nutritious meals, and invest in our economy by supporting businesses providing local, sustainable food.”

Currently an average of 44% of primary school children receive free lunches, although this varies depending on local authority and the government is hoping to see an average take-up of 86% across Wales.


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Cathy Jones
Cathy Jones
28 days ago

You know what though? He does have a point. When it comes to spending public money it should be costed correctly, be of solid value and be clear in its use, there should be financial probity and clean dealing for all parties who, of course, should be subject to rigorous public scrutiny, all accounts laid bare for all who wish to see to view at their leisure…. This is why I have no doubt that the Tory in question will also be insisting that MP’s expenses are looked into closely and the way money was spent and where it was… Read more »

George
George
28 days ago

One hopes that spending on kids having school meals ensures that Council’s don’t have to spend on pursuing unpaid Council Tax bills, longer hospital waiting lists as underdeveloped children encounter more social issues, or fixing vandalism in communities where there is nothing to do.

I’m not going to judge any parent, it’s tough enough already, but while free school meals is undoubtedly a good thing it’s also an opportunity for parents to use the money saved for something else. Sometimes that needs to just be something nice, but I really hope many invest in something productive as well.

kerry davies
kerry davies
28 days ago

If free school meals prevents just two or three children a year from being taken into care in each county it will be a money spinner.
The real savings though come through a lifetime reduction in health, education, social and security costs.

I.Humphrys
I.Humphrys
28 days ago

It’s a good start, but eventually an independent Cymru should aim for better.

For example, Google: School Meals In Finland.

You will see, in one photo, children helping themselves, which will enable their social skills and build confidence, eating in company with their teachers etc. It’s about building our society, a society which does not belong in the Anglo Tory world; Cymru Rhydd!

Last edited 28 days ago by I.Humphrys
Vyvyan
Vyvyan
28 days ago

Means-testing adds a layer of bureaucracy which would decrease the pot of money available. Is this really a good thing Sam Rowlands MS?

Gareth
Gareth
28 days ago

Could a law be passed in the Senedd, that before a Tory opens his mouth, he must recite, ” people in glass houses should not throw stones” and spend 5 minutes contemplating this, before making a statement. Maybe ” the numbers do not add up ” will resonate while contemplating “37 billion” and “test and trace”.

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