The Conservatives on Gloucestershire County Council voted unanimously against Cllr Joe Harris' calls to protect the new universal infant free school meal programme and asking the Leader of the Council to write to the Secretary of State for Education, the Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP.
Introduced in September 2014, the free school meal programme gives all five-to-seven year-old pupils in state schools in England a free school meal. Designed to boost the health and educational attainment of children, the Liberal Democrats had also asked for a survey to be undertaken in all primary schools across Gloucestershire to examine the benefits of the free school meal programme, but this was also rejected by the Conservatives.
The Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Children and Young People, Cllr. Joe Harris (LD: Cirencester Park) who proposed the motion said:
“The free school meals scheme saves families over £400 per child per year and promotes healthy eating. It is well known that what children eat now shapes how they’ll eat as adults and this policy helps support that. There are currently 2,957 children who receive free school meals in the Cotswold parliamentary constituency and a further 3,266 in Stroud, Gloucester has 4286, Cheltenham 3086, Tewkesbury 3347 and Forest of Dean 2411 children receive a free school meal. If scrapped, a grand total of 19,353 children across Gloucestershire could lose that meal.
“We’ve heard recently the Prime Minister, David Cameron saying he is “very proud” of the free school meals scheme, and that it won’t be scrapped as part of the Chancellor’s November spending review. This is good news yet on Friday the Conservatives in Gloucestershire unanimously voted against our calls to protect the free school meals programme by writing to the secretary of State for Education. The Conservatives have only been in power since May and we’ve already seen a number of broken pledges. Before the election they were saying one thing and now after the election they are saying something completely different. This is the politics of convenience and not conviction, it is clear they’ll say anything to get a vote.
“Research shows that the average school lunch is healthier than around 9 out of 10 lunch boxes. I’m clear that we should be supporting parents to help their children achieve their full potential, all the evidence shows that a healthy school lunch helps achieve this. It is extremely disappointing that the Conservatives in Gloucestershire don’t realise this.”
Cllr. Paul Hodgkinson (LD: Bourton-on-the-Water and Northleach) who spoke in support of the motion also said:
“I’ve seen first-hand how primary schools locally have made changes to their buildings to accommodate the extra meals – for example Bourton on the Water, North Cerney and Sherborne schools. When I served pupils their lunch at North Cerney earlier this year I was very impressed by the standard of food and the children seemed to love it.
“The Liberal Democrats fought tooth and nail to get this through in Coalition because we want every child to have the best possible start in life and be able to concentrate in class, and all the evidence shows that a healthy meal helps with that.
“Instead of investing in our children, the Government is turning up at the school gate and taking their lunch away.”
The vote on Friday was narrowly lost by 23 votes for and 24 against.