Labour city may cut school dinners

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The Independent Online
A Labour-controlled council is considering cutting the size of school meals by 10 per cent to save money, in a move denounced yesterday by child welfare groups.

Liverpool City Council is examining a number of cost-cutting proposals, including smaller school meals. The measure could save about pounds 264,000 a year but opposition councillors and children's charities believe that threatening child nutrition is too high a price.

The row surfaced yesterday after the city's Liberal Democrat education spokesman, Paul Clein, claimed the council was considering reducing the size of free school meals only, meaning that poorer children would be given 10 per cent less food than those who could afford to pay. But the education committee chairman, Neville Bann, dismissed these claims as "absolute rubbish".

Mr Bann said the council had to cut pounds 38.5m to stay within Government spending limits, and so "unpalatable decisions" needed to be made. "Reducing school meals in size would be one of the last options we would consider - but that would be for all schoolchildren," he said. Other proposals included closing down a studies centre, stopping school uniform grants and sacking 60 care assistants in special needs schools.

The headteacher of a primary school in Liverpool's Toxteth district said she was shocked at the prospect of smaller school meals.

"For some of our children that could be the only proper hot meal of the day," said the head, who did not wish to be named, as her school is threatened by closure. "Anyway, if school dinners get any smaller than they are already, it won't be worth dirtying the plate."

Figures from the Child Poverty Action Group last year showed that one in nine children went without breakfast each day, with one in six children going without cooked evening meals.

Its director Sally Witcher said: "School meals are essential way of investing in the health of young children and failure to do so could have serious long-term implications. With as many as one in three children living in poverty, the need to safeguard nutritional free school meals is vital."

The National Union of Teachers was sympathetic to the council's position, saying Liverpool faced "a terrible dilemma." A spokeswoman added: "By its attitude to education funding, the Government is taking food out of children's mouths."

However, the local Liberal Democrat MP, David Alton, said: "It conjures up ideas of Mr Bumble in the workhouse, telling Oliver Twist that he cannot have any more."