Tory leader in York accuses Lib Dems of scoring 'cheap political points' over free school meals

The Conservative group leader on the City of York Council has accused the Liberal Democrats of trying to score “cheap political points” over Labour’s free school meal policy.

Coun Chris Steward, a former council leader who leads York Conservatives, chose not to sign a letter to party leaders asking for commitments on free school meals last week. The letter was signed by Coun Claire Douglas, the Labour group and council leader, and Coun Nigel Ayre, leader of the opposition Liberal Democrat group.

Following sending the letter to Rishi Sunak, Sir Keir Starmer and Sir Ed Davey, Coun Ayre said there was “no chance that the Labour administration will be able to honour their pre-election promise to deliver free school meals for every primary school child in York.”

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He added: “We are glad that the York Labour Party have signed up to the Liberal Democrat position that the best way to deliver free school meals is with a national programme.”

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Following Coun Ayre’s statement, Coun Steward, who chose not to join York party leaders in signing the letter, said: “Although we absolutely support free school meals for currently entitled children for reasons like low parental income, we do not believe it is sensible to commit to free school meals for all children.

“It is sad that the Lib Dems hope to achieve cheap political points on this issue with what they admit is an entirely unfunded commitment. The Lib Dems do not even pretend to be serious about achieving power as they make endless pledges for more spending without any idea how they will be funded.

People would have thought that their brief glimpse of power when they had to do huge u-turns including most notably of tuition fees would have taught them more of a lesson on this than it has.”

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The Liberal Democrats have been piling pressure onto Labour about how deliverable their pledge to provide free school meals to all primary school children is. Before being elected into office in May, Labour promised to pay for free school meals for all primary school children with a community-raised fund.

Labour’s rhetoric has since shifted from their original pledge to provide free school meals to every primary school child to “mobilising the city.”

Only children at Westfield Primary School will receive a free midday meal in a trial between January and December, where 17.4 per cent of children are already eligible to receive one. Another trial for the same time period is taking place at Burton Green Primary Academy for free school breakfasts. More money will need to be raised to pay for further trials.

When challenged on how deliverable the policy is, education executive Coun Bob Webb said: “Obviously it’s going to develop over time and it will be whatever the city makes of it. We are going to do what we can to deliver as much as we can to as many young people as we can. Yes, finances are tough and that’s why we’ve chosen this model of doing this as a city, rather than just as a council.”

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