Council: No free school meals without more funds

Many schools need upgrades to deliver free meals. Picture: Donald MacLeod 19.01.05

Many schools need upgrades to deliver free meals. Picture: Donald MacLeod 19.01.05

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THE Scottish Government’s free school meals for P3s and under policy is on the brink of collapse amid claims of a huge shortfall in funding, education chiefs have warned.

With only months to go until it comes into force, city chiefs say they will not be able to deliver the policy at “a number of Edinburgh schools” without an urgent cash injection.

It is understood they need up to £4 million for essential improvements to school meal halls, with work set to include the creation of extra dining, serving and food preparation space, tables and chairs, and equipment.

Education bosses said they had been pressing ministers for months on the issue but have yet to be told when and how much funding will be available. It is thought that if new money is not released to meet the shortfall, other capital budgets may have to be raided.

Councillor Paul Godzik, education leader, said: “What is very clear is that without additional capital funding being made available to the council we will be unable to deliver this policy in a number of Edinburgh schools. We do want to deliver this policy. However, local authorities were assured that the policy would be ‘fully funded’ and therefore we require the Scottish Government to make good on this commitment.”

Worried parent leaders said the national policy had put Edinburgh’s already cramped primaries under intense pressure and urged ministers to explain precisely how the capital requirement would be financed.

Mums and dads at East Craigs Primary – where a tiny hall has forced pupils to eat lunch on their knees – said they could not see how the school would be able to deliver commitments on free meals and two hours of quality PE without significant levels of investment.

Parent council member Fiona Kenny said: “The two pledges made by the SNP have put unprecedented pressure on the school’s single hall and the council agrees with the school and the parents that a new gym hall is the most appropriate long-term solution for the pupils’ health, wellbeing and fundamental education.”

She said the lack of information in Edinburgh and across Scotland contrasted with the situation south of the Border. “I believe [deputy prime minister] Nick Clegg has confirmed the funding available to meet a similar pledge in England. Therefore it is disappointing the Scottish education system has not received the same clarity.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government is committed to continue to work in partnership with local authorities to ensure children in primary 1 to 3 have access to a free school meal from January.

“The initial agreement was to provide £55m over two years to deliver this commitment but after detailed discussions, the Scottish Government has increased this to £70.5m. The Scottish Government is clear that reasonable capital costs associated with this policy are met and discussions on this matter are under way.”