Funding - Treasury asked to dish up food cash

4th October 2013 at 01:00
Scotland waits for verification of free school meals money

The Scottish government continues to refuse to verify whether it will follow England's lead and introduce free school meals in early primary, saying it cannot confirm if extra cash for the initiative is coming from Westminster.

Last month, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg used the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow to announce free school lunches for English children in the first three years of primary from September next year, with equivalent funding for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

UK government sources suggested that Scotland would receive #163;60 million as its share of the #163;600 million initiative.

But the Scottish government has been unable to confirm the figure with the UK Treasury, education secretary Michael Russell told TESS. "Nobody in the Scottish government is unsympathetic, but we have had no confirmation from the Treasury of these additional resources," he said.

The Treasury was unable to reveal the exact sum that Scotland could expect to receive, but a spokesman said that funding for the scheme would be announced in the Chancellor's Autumn Statement, due in November or December. The Barnett formula would be applied in the usual way to establish the Scottish share, he said.

When the SNP came to power in 2007, it pledged to introduce free school meals for P1-P3 children.

However, the financial crisis led to the plan being watered down. In 2010 - the year of the planned national roll-out - West Dunbartonshire was the only authority to introduce the policy. It scrapped the scheme after less than a year, and in other council areas, too, access to free food has been curtailed.

Now pressure is mounting on the government to use any Westminster funding to realise their pledge.

Last week, unions, churches and charities joined together to call for the government to confirm that it would be rolling out free meals "as soon as possible".

In their letter to the deputy first minister and finance, education and health secretaries, the organisations said it had been a matter of "real concern and disappointment" that the SNP pledge had never been realised.

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