'Shortfall' in funding for free school meal scheme

Government funding to improve school kitchens and dining facilities has been insufficient, according to a survey Credit: PA

Councils have been forced to raid existing budgets to deliver a Government scheme to offer free school lunches to infants, new research has found.

All five- to seven-year-olds are entitled to the meals from September, under plans announced last year by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

However, of the 75 councils that responded to the Local Government Association (LGA) survey nearly half are facing a shortfall in funding for the initiative and 37% of those said they would use cash from school funds to make up the difference.

The LGA estimates that the councils without enough money have had to find £488,000 on average to make sure the scheme goes ahead.

Councillor David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA's children and young people board, said:

There's no doubt that dishing up a nutritious lunch for every young pupil will improve the experience of school and help them concentrate in lessons.

But it cannot be right that for some councils, money set aside for maintenance has instead had to be spent plugging the shortfall in money which government should have provided for meals.

It is councils and schools who are picking up the bill for this work, at a time when budgets are already squeezed and tough decisions are being taken.

– David Simmonds