Emma Seith

Aberdeen city Council is slashing services to find Pounds 60 million of savings over two years, and widespread cuts to education are anticipated. But SNP Councillor Kirsty West assured the parliament's education committee last week that not only would it be aiming to deliver free school lunches in P1-3, but free breakfasts too.

After picking themselves up off the floor, MSPs began "The Grilling of Councillor West". It was a sport that commanded cross-party support (with one predictable exception). The question on all their lips: "Seriously?" (or words to that effect).

But this was Aberdeen's plan - using government funding, local authority money and cash from private enterprise, the committee was told.

Conservative MSP Elizabeth Smith wanted to know more about the private sector funding. It was "an idea", said Councillor West; it was not "fully worked-up".

Exactly how Aberdeen planned to provide two free meals a day never did become clear, perhaps shedding light on how it had ended up in its current, less than solvent, position.

Inverclyde Council, meanwhile, was struggling with the idea of providing just a free lunch, head of schools Albert Henderson reported. The SNP's Kenny Gibson (previously known as "Statto", apparently) did a good job of unpicking his maths. Nevertheless, Mr Henderson did seem confident about two facts: that free meals in the early years would cost Inverclyde around Pounds 368,000 and the council didn't have the cash.

It would face "stark choices", he said, if it had to implement the policy: the number of teachers or support staff might have to be cut. The council was also considering raising the threshold for children's entitlement to free travel to school.

Free school meal provision was what councils had committed to when they signed the concordat, Christina McKelvie, who has clearly been over-dosing on John Grisham novels, reminded authorities. She read out the relevant everybody, then demanded: "Did you commit to this?" Some sheepish nods and muttered yeses. "I rest my case, your honour - I mean convener," said Ms McKelvie (we imagined).

Labour's Claire Baker also expressed interest in the concordat, specifically the bit about implementing free meals following a successful pilot. How, then, could they have been funded in 2007, before the pilot had run? she asked.

Food for thought.

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for TES Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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