Funding fears over plans to bring free school meals to infants across Dorset (From Bournemouth Echo)
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Funding fears over plans to bring free school meals to infants across Dorset
CONCERNS are growing that plans to bring in free school meals for infants across Dorset are being rushed in with not enough funding.
Under the Government’s plan every child in reception, Year 1 and Year 2 in state-funded schools will receive a free school lunch from September 2014.
But with only six months to go until the start of the scheme, council bosses, teachers and suppliers said they have concerns about the delivery.
While everyone is in agreement that the idea behind the plan is good, there are fears there won’t be enough money available or enough time to make all the changes necessary.
The government has allocated a pot of £883,430 for Dorset County Council to buy equipment for schools, like ovens, food servers and fridges.
But the money is just for capital expenditure and not for staffing, council bosses said.
A spokesman for Dorset County Council said they would go from providing around 3,500 free school meals to a target of around 12,000, once the universal free school meals plan was implemented.
The county council is currently in the process of tendering for a new food provider and are hoping the contract will be awarded soon.
They are currently auditing schools to see who needs what equipment to get ready for the new scheme.
Speaking to the Echo, Toni Coombs, Dorset County Council’s cabinet member for education, said that it would be a ‘large ask’ to be ready to go by September.
She said: “We are going to do our best. We have the best interests of Dorset children at heart.”
The food contractors are currently in the process of re-tendering for the DCC contract for the new school year.
When asked if £883,430 was enough to fund the project, Mrs Coombs said she was concerned it would not be.
She said: “There are over 100 schools that are eligible and they all need something.
“It’s not a huge amount per school, that’s the difficulty we have got.”
When asked if additional money would need to be provided by DCC, Mrs Coombs said: “I will expect we will have to.”
She added that the money may have to come out of the Modernising Schools Project.
She said: “Depending on what the impact is, we will have to see how we restructure projects down the line.”
If they had to put additional money towards providing school meal infrastructure, then there could be other things that would have to go down the line, Mrs Coombs said.
When asked if it was just another pressure put on DCC by the government, Mrs Coombs said: “Yes.”
While everyone thought the idea of providing free school meals was good and provided health and social benefits, Mrs Coombs said her concerns were about how it was being implemented.
She said DCC ‘will do our best to deliver in time in September’.
She added: “We want to do the best for our schools and for our children.
“It’s all been rushed and it’s a shame. This could be a really good news story.”
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