Cabinet agrees school meal price hike to £2.30 from September; government makes meals free for first 3 years of school

Cabinet agrees school meal price hike to £2.30 from September; government makes meals free for first 3 years of school

Cabinet agrees school meal price hike to £2.30 from September; government makes meals free for first 3 years of school


Councillor Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services) explains to Wirral Council's Cabinet about the changes to school meals cost and entitlement
Councillor Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services) on the far left of the photo explains to Wirral Council’s Cabinet about the changes to the cost of school meal cost and what universal free school meals means

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The item on changes to the price of school meals starts at 2:09 in the video above and the report to Cabinet and its appendix are available on Wirral Council’s website by following those links.

One of the decisions made at last Thursday’s Cabinet meeting was to increase the price of school meals to £2.30 from September 2014. This will increase the price of school meals at three nursery schools, sixty-four primary schools and thirteen special schools on the Wirral.

Just under half (48%) of school meals are however provided free. Families on means tested benefits such as income support, income-based Jobseekers Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, receiving support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, the guaranteed element of State Pension Credit, Child Tax Credit (providing the person working is not also entitled to Working Tax Credit and has an income of less than £16,190), Working Tax Credit run on and Universal Credit may be entitled to free school meals.

However those who are entitled to free school meals don’t receive this automatically and have to first apply to Wirral Council. This can be done on Wirral Council’s website by clicking on the link on this page “Apply for Free School Meals”.

The increase in the school meals cost is however the bad news, but there is good news. From September (as part of the reforms the government are bringing as part of the Children and Families Bill) there will be a legal requirement that school meals will be free for all children (not just children from families on the means tested benefits mentioned earlier) in reception as well as years 1 and 2. This will have effect from September 2014.

To cope with the increased demand that Wirral Council predicts will happen once there is a free school meal entitlement for all children in reception as well as years 1 and 2, Wirral Council are starting a recruitment process to hire a further eighty to a hundred people to work in school kitchens preparing the extra meals. Wirral Council will be receiving extra money from the government to pay for this extra free school meals entitlement.

The price increase and putting in place arrangements for the start of universal free school meals for infants from September were both agreed by Cabinet. However the topic will also be discussed at a future meeting of Wirral Schools Forum.

Cllr Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services) had this to say about it at the Cabinet meeting, “This report is in two parts Chair, part one is to increase the price of a paid meal in schools from £2 to £2.30 with effect from September 2014. The second part is to implement government policy with the introduction of universal free school meals for infant aged children.

I’ll just take the first one free school meal policy. Metro provide to the authority meal service for eighty schools, nursery, primary and special and has a turnover in excess of £4 million. Food costs are increasing and unit costs remain historically in excess of £2.80. With a charge of £2 for each meal there is a significant subsidy. Decision about the price of a main meal is taken by government bodies taking account of local authority costs.

Many other authorities in the area that we’ve looked at currently charge in excess of £2 per a meal although none charge £2.30. Can I just say we haven’t got the figures from other local authorities for this year so we’re talking about what the charges were last year and some of those are in excess of £2?

The increase recommended that some, not all inflationary pressures over the period to help the Metro trading account achieve and maintain a balanced position. The cost of meal production will be reviewed and an expansion of the service will provide greater economies of scale through better financial monitoring.

The second part is on universal free meals. I think this has been adopted by the Deputy Leader in the last week or so. This is a new national policy initiative backed by legislation to provide all infant age children in schools with a free meal. Plan for this change, some additional equipment and alterations is needed. A capital grant of £623,802 has been allocated and should be included within the capital program.

Schools will be paid £2.30 by the government for each additional meal produced. It’s anticipated that Metro meal volumes will increase by 80% in September with an ongoing grant in the full year for schools of £3.5 million. The additional revenue and this is good news again funding will fund additional food production and the need for more staff in kitchens. We’re talking about eighty to a hundred posts in Metro kitchens.

At this time proposals have not been considered by the Schools Forum and the headteachers groups although this will happen prior to implementation. I’ve got three recommendations, that one that the price of a paid school meal is increased to £2.30 from September of 2014 in primary schools where their services are provided by Metro services and that this increase is recommended to governing bodies of primary and special schools.

Two subject to Council approval, that the capital grant received will implement universal free school meals for infants in maintained schools totalling £623,802 is included within the capital grant for 2014-15 and is used to progress a range of schemes described and thirdly that Metro school kitchen staffing numbers are increased to take into account the additional meal numbers with costs funded by schools and the Department for Education revenue grant based on £2.30 per an additional free meal served. Thank you Chair.”

Cllr Phil Davies replied, “OK, thanks very much, can we agree those recommendations?”

Cabinet agreed the recommendations.

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