THE COST of implementing Nick Clegg’s flagship universal free meals policy has resulted in Sheffield Council being forced to find nearly half-a-million pounds from its budget.
The Yorkshire Post can reveal that four schools in the Deputy Prime Minister’s constituency city which applied for £330,000 in the second round of additional funding announced by the Department of Education earlier this year were all rejected.
Accusing the Government of underfunding the scheme, Sheffield Council revealed it has had to pull together a total of £400,000 since the introduction of a free, nutritious meal for every child under seven in September last year.
The revelation comes at a time when some opinion polls have suggested the Liberal Democrat leader could be vulnerable come May’s general election.
Coun Jackie Drayton, Sheffield Council’s cabinet member for children, young people and families, said: “This was another unfunded promise by the Deputy Prime Minister and the council have had to pick up the bill for a government policy.
“Ensuring that children have a nutritious hot meal at school is something we feel passionately about so we have taken action to plug find the gap that the Government have left us and spent £400,000 from council budgets in upgrading kitchens in schools to make sure every child in the city is able to access a free school meal.”
The fresh batch of rejections will need to be funded by Sheffield City Council, itself already mired in severe cuts to its budget from Whitehall.
One school in the Sheffield Hallam constituency - Lydgate Infant School - was turned down in its request for £19,000 to deal with a list of problems, including reflooring work needed to address a ‘slip hazard’. Hunters Bar Infants, which has been forced to transport hot food from its neighbouring junior school, was rejected in a bid for £250,000 to extend the currently ‘inadequate dining facilities’ in its main hall.
Charnock Hall Primary asked for £30,000 to fix a ‘safeguarding issue’ which emerged as a result of delivering the meals to pupils.
In contrast, primaries and infants in other parts of Yorkshire - Harrogate, Goole and Howden - were successful in their bids.
Oliver Coppard, Labour’s constituency candidate, described the decision a “kick in the teeth for schools and families in Sheffield”.
But Nick Clegg’s office argues that the city should have used the £1.2million awarded in the initial round of funding more wisely.
“Thousands of children in Sheffield are now enjoying a free, healthy meal at lunch time because Nick Clegg fought for it to happen,” said a spokesman for the Deputy PM. “Parents and taxpayers will be amazed that Labour haven’t been able to make such a huge amount of money go far enough.”
A DfE spokesman said: “There were some schools which had specific difficulties and demonstrated they could not provide hot food for pupils. We’re offering support to the other schools.”