By Tony Earnshaw LDRS
Children’s Services chiefs in Kirklees are racing to come up with a plan to ensure disadvantaged youngsters in the borough receive free school meals over the Christmas break. It follows the recent – and latest – government U-turn on the issue.
Kirklees Council is determined to ensure that measures setting out proposals for the Christmas holiday period and other targeted support into 2021 are in place by mid-December.
Officers will now scrutinise the latest guidance from government and draw up plans for future support over the next five months for hard-pressed families.
Clr Carole Pattison, the council’s Cabinet member for Learning, Aspiration and Communities, said: “We are wanting to make sure that families that are eligible for this support receive it in good time at Christmas to enable them to provide a plan for the Christmas period. That’s what we are working on at the moment.
“A report will come back to Cabinet to detail how this will happen, and the costs of that going forward.”
The school meals issue has led to two government climb-downs this year.
Prior to the latest U-turn, which was prompted by pressure from campaigning footballer Marcus Rashford, the council pledged to pump hundreds of thousands of pounds into guaranteeing children did not go hungry over October half-term.
The cost to the authority of providing free school meal vouchers over that period would have been £232,000.
Extending that over future holidays – February half-term and the two-week Easter break – would have required an estimated £1.1m in total.
The money would have provided £15 per week for every eligible child, of which there are more than 15,000 across the district.
Council Leader Clr Shabir Pandor described the funding package as “the right thing to do”.
He added: “We need to do our bit to make sure that we support every single child where we can.”