Cost of Free School Meals creates £300k financial strain for Monmouthshire Council
EACH free school meal dished out to the youngest primary school pupils is costing a council 85p more to make than it receives in funding for the scheme.
The Welsh Government promised every primary school pupil free school dinners as a result of a deal agreed in the Senedd by Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru.
Universal free school meals were rolled out to the youngest pupils in primary schools from September last year, with all pupils in the foundation phase at schools in Monmouthshire having been entitled to a free lunch during the academic year ending this week.
From September all pupils at all 30 primary schools in Monmouthshire will be entitled to a free school dinner every day of the school week.
But Monmouthshire council figures show its schools catering service is headed for a £300,007 overspend in the current financial year. While that is likely to be slightly reduced due to a one-off free school meals administration funding of £89,000, that isn’t exepected to be continued in the 2024/25 financial year.
The rollout of the free school meal policy will also mean the council will have to fork out more on ingredients and increased staff to meet the additional demand.
Rachel Buckler, the Conservative councillor for Devauden, asked at a council scrutiny committee if the Welsh Government is providing additional funding for the policy. She also asked if the funding took into account the nutritional value of the dinners.
Will McLean, the council’s chief officer for children and young people, confirmed there is a current shortfall in funding per meal.
He said: “It costs us approximately £3.75 to produce a meal and we get £2.90 from the Welsh Government.”
The cost to the council will increase from September when all primary school pupils will be able to choose to have a free school dinner.
He said the cost, in Monmouthshire, already accounts for nutrional value as its has a “from fresh and from scratch” standard.
The Welsh Government is currenlty reviewing the suitability of the £2.90 rate paid to councils which will learn in the autumn if it is to increase.
Councillors have been warned without any increase from the Welsh Government there is a potential for the school catering service overspend to increase in 24/25 as the council bears the full impact of increase in meals provided across a whole financial year.
By BBC LDRS
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