EVERY infant school child in Gloucestershire County Council-run schools will be able to eat a proper lunch, for free, when at school from September.
And the local authority which runs the schools is gearing up to provide the service, announced by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg at his party conference in the autumn.
But councillors admit that it’s a tight time-frame to get everything done.
At the county council’s cabinet meeting today, the ruling group of councillors authorised officers to make an interim contract to the current contractor for school meals in Gloucestershire, Edwards and Ward. The short-term contract will cover from April next year to July, and allow the council to set up a competitive tender for a seven year contract to provide meals to the county’s infant schools.
Leader of the county council, Mark Hawthorne said of the long-term contract: “There’s a huge amount of work to do to put in place this contract. Previous work kicked of twelve months ago, but now we’re in the same time-frame.”
But during questions, the Liberal Democrats spokesman for finance and change, Jeremy Hilton and Councillor Hawthorne (C, Quedgeley) were in agreement that provision of free school meals to youngsters was a good thing to do
Mr Hilton asked of the policy which he described as a Liberal Democrat initiative: Would you agree that’s it’s a really good move and a reason to rejoice?”
Mr Hawthorne responded: “Well, it is Christmas, the season for rejoicing.” He added that he agreed that the coalition government was doing an excellent job in bringing in the policy.
Responding to another question from Councillor Hilton (LD, Kingsholm and Wotton), Mr Hawthorne said he didn’t know what money would be made available from government for capital spending to prepare for the contract, expanding school kitchens and dining areas, for example. He said: “We haven’t got any information on that. Nationally £150 million is being provided and as a rule of thumb we tend to get one per cent of that. But we don’t know.”
Cotswold Chef Rob Rees, who has done a lot of work with children and cooking is also chair of the Children’s Food Trust, and campaigns to get schools said: “For some young people in our more deprived areas, school lunch is the only decent meal they are likely to get. We have got to continue to invest in the tough times."