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Free school meals uncertainty adding to challenges facing caterers

18 May 2022
The Scottish Government’s decision to relax its commitment to provide free school meals for P6 and P7 pupils is creating extra problems for caterers, it is claimed.

Addressing delegates at the ASSIST FM annual conference in Glasgow, chair Jayne Jones said: “Here we are in May and we still don’t know when we’ll get the funding and be able to start to work providing free school meals for all our primary children.”

She was referring to the Scottish Government’s proposed spending for 2022/23, which will include funding to extend free lunches to older primary schoolchildren.

Local authorities, which deliver school meals in Scotland and are preparing to expand free meals to all primary school children starting in the new academic year in August, have been told the funding arrangements will now be announced ‘later in the parliamentary term’.

“I feel your pain,” she said, conceding that the headache provided by this situation was coming on top of rising food prices and following hard on the heels of the huge commitment made by caterers during the pandemic.

“I pay tribute to our frontline staff, in particular.

“When so many stayed at home, our teams worked long hours, putting aside holiday sometimes, to help feed our children and the vulnerable in our communities.”

On the first day of the conference Paul O’Brien, chief executive of the Association of Public Service Excellence (APSE), told delegates that a new report by his organization made the case for local government to tackle many of the major challenges facing society.

“Going against decades of centralization and seeing resources taken away from local government, we need to switch to a system of ‘local be default.

“To make this work we need long-term, sustainable financing, the ability to raise local taxes and an end to competitive bidding for central funding – it should be supplied on the basis of need.”

The Good Food Nation Bill was discussed by Mairi Gougeon, MSP and Mary Brennan, chair of Food Marketing and Society, University of Edinburgh.

Brennan said: “We now know, if we didn’t before, just how importance school meals are, and food security in households, many of those at risk are the very workers we need to grow, harvest, cook and serve the meals. We need action to make sure that the people who bring us food can afford it as well."

And Jim Fairlie, MSP spoke about his plans to try to make sure every primary school child knows how to make a pot of soup by the time they move up to secondary school.