Go-ahead for Derby free meal holiday scheme despite attempt to block it

No changes will be made to a new Derby City Council scheme for children eligible for free school meals in the school holidays – despite the authority’s executive scrutiny board finding it breached decision-making rules by not being clear in its aims.

Labour councillors decided to call-in last month’s cabinet decision to accept the scheme, which aims to provide a mixed scheme of food vouchers and holiday activities, which provide a meal if eligible children attend.

The activity scheme will be at the heart of Derby City Council’s drive to ensure that almost 11,000 eligible city children, entitled to free school meals during term-time, receive food in the holidays from this Easter onwards, apart from two weeks when they will receive food vouchers.

It is also aimed at tackling childhood obesity by providing the opportunity for health meals, physical activity and nutritional education for children along with advice and guidance for parents.

The Labour councillors said that questions about how many children would attend the holiday scheme, what is the provision for four weeks when the holiday scheme is not running and if children don’t attend will they get a food voucher were not answered in the original report.

They said this showed there were two breaches of decision-making – “clarity of aims and desired outcomes” and also “relevant issues appeared not to have been taken into consideration”.

The executive scrutiny board re-examined the report on Tuesday evening, made observations and listened to responses by councillor Evonne Williams, cabinet member for children and young people, about the claims.

She said that it was difficult at this stage to know how many of the eligible children would take up the activity scheme, but those who didn’t would be able to seek support through charity Food4Thought, which could be in the form of food parcels or vouchers.

A vote among board members upheld the “clarity of aims and desired outcomes” as a breach but rejected the second proposed breach.

The outcome of the call-in decision was reported at Wednesday night’s cabinet meeting.

Labour group leader Councillor Baggy Shanker said it was disappointing that the food and holiday scheme had been called in to be re-examined, but he was still not satisfied that aims of the scheme were clear and questions that had been raised had still not been answered.

But council leader Councillor Chris Poulter said that he disagreed with the scrutiny board and that the finding from the call-in was rejected and that no further action would be taken leaving the scheme to go ahead as previously reported.

The holiday activity and food programme was introduced by the Government in 17 local authority areas last summer and the city council is expecting to be able fund its programme from additional government funding available.

Free school meals guidance issued by the Government in 2018 makes it clear that the provision of free school meals is a term-time only obligation.

This means that the provision of free school meals for any period during Easter summer or Christmas school holidays is discretionary on the the part of the city council and there is no legal obligation to do so.

The estimated additional cost for the nine-month plan is £573,000.

After the cabinet meeting, Mr Shanker said: “It’s obvious the cabinet do not want to fulfil the intent of full council’s motion back in November, which voted for all children to be given food vouchers and not have holiday schemes that they may or may not attend to receive a meal.

“They know the proposals do not support all hungry children in our city and it now appears they don’t really care given that they were asked to revisit this decision because they breached decision making principles and yet came to the same conclusion.

“I’m worried that even at today’s meeting some cabinet members still do not understand the recommendations in the report.

“The Labour Party will continue to stand by our most vulnerable families and our children that are going to sleep hungry.”

Courtesy of Derbyshire Live – Derby News