27 January 2009

Pot too small for Free School Meals in the Highlands

Peter Peacock, Highlands and Islands regional Labour MSP, says it is unlikely there will be enough money in the pot for local authorities to implement Scottish Government promises on free school meals in the Highlands.

Mr Peacock had written to the Minister for Children and Early Years, Adam Ingram, to ask how plans to introduce free meals from August for all children in households receiving working tax credits and child tax credits was to be funded.

“The Minister has told me the funding has already been provided in the current financial settlement.

“He claims the reduction in ring fencing of funds for specific local authority budgets means that councils have greater freedom and flexibility, although he describes this as a ‘challenge’.

“In reality it allows the Government to say the general funding figure covers everything, without a proper breakdown to see if the money is actually there or not,” said Mr Peacock.

He added: “The issue of funding for free school meals is a classic example.

“Having written to Councils, I have been told by them they either don't know what the costs of the government's proposals are and cannot budget for them, or that there is no way they have the cash available.

“On one hand the Councils are saying that even they have no idea how much the measure will cost them, but on the other the Scottish Government says it has been provided in the financial pot.

“But if the Councils don't even know the costs, how can the right sum of money have been provided?

“By passing the buck, Mr Ingram’s ‘freedom’ is one that sees Councils being asked to make hard decisions over existing front line services in Highland and even then, they can't find the cash to provide funding for SNP promises.”


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