Published: 07/01/2014 17:39 - Updated: 07/01/2014 17:59

Free school meals welcomed

FREE school meals for P1-3 children have been welcomed by the leader of Moray Council.

Healthy offerings for all P1-3 children in Moray from next January.
Healthy offerings for all P1-3 children in Moray from next January.

First Minister Alex Salmond announced the Scotland-wide move during a debate in parliament.

Moray Council already operates free school meals for P1-3 children in three local schools.

The £114 million package will see every child in Scotland in P1-3 have the option of a free school meal from January next year.

Mr Salmond: "It will remove any possibility of free meals being a source of stigma during the first years of a child’s schooling; it will improve health and wellbeing; and it will be worth at least £330 a year for each child to families across the country."

The Scottish Government also announced the expansion of free childcare provision to every two year-old from a workless household in Scotland – around 8,400 children or 15 per cent of all two year-olds – by August this year.

Free school meals will cost £13m in 2014-15 and £42m in 2015-16.

Moray Council leader, Councillor Allan Wright said: "This is welcome news. The Scottish scheme will not be introduced until January 2015, four months behind England. Nevertheless, a year from now we will undoubtedly begin to see an increased uptake of healthy school meals.

"We have evidence from the three schools where the council already operates free meals for the first three primary school years and the uptake has risen from around 50% to 75%.

"Extending that across the primary school estate would mean an extra 700 meals a day and more than 2000 pupils getting wholesome, healthy food. There are important health and wellbeing benefits directly linked to this initiative as well as the financial implication for families.

"There will be extra staffing and other costs as well as the extra food, but we do have a firm assurance that the scheme will be fully funded."

GMB Scotland is the largest union for catering staff across Scotland’s 32 Local authorities.

Alex McLuckie, GMB Scotland’s Senior Organiser for the public sector, said: "There is so much good in this announcement. It will help tackle poverty and social exclusion and help remove the stigma some attach to free school meals."

Scottish Labour’s Education spokeswoman Kezia Dugdale, a former Elgin High School pupil, said: "The key question from today’s announcement is; how many of the poorest kids will be better off as a result of extending free school meals? The answer is not many, as the poorest 20% of kids already get free school meals.

"Politics is about choices, and these are competing good things. Within Scottish Labour, we don’t disagree with the free school meals policy, but believe the money could be better spent by providing childcare for the poorest 50% of two year olds.

Graeme Brown, Director of Shelter Scotland, said: "At a time when the pressure on household budgets is forcing many families to make hard choices and cut back on essentials, this move by the Scottish Government is very much welcomed."

Moray MSP, Richard Lochhead added: "In tough times it is clear that this SNP Government is getting behind local families with a raft of measures aimed at relieving the burden on household budgets. Things like the council tax freeze, free prescriptions and scrapping tuition fees have all eased the pressures on family budgets but the Government have been keen to do more, particularly when it comes to school meals.

"As a local constituency MSP and I have the pleasure of regularly visiting schools and meeting with local health professionals. One of the issues that comes up during discussions is the health and education of local children. All too often some kids aren’t receiving enough nutritional food to eat for a variety of reasons, and we know that this can have a negative impact on their learning ability and attainment.

"The introduction of free hot school meals is one way we can help youngsters focus better on their studies and ensure they are being well looked after at school."

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