Thursday, 2 October 2008

Free school meals welcome, but councils need funds to provide the service

UNISON News Release
Date: Thurs 2 October 2008

UNISON Scotland today welcomed the rollout of free school meals for pupils in primary 1-3, but warned that without proper funding, councils will struggle to deliver this vital service. In addition the union warned, that councils with PFI schools may not have the facilities to deliver, or the flexibility to cover the extra within the contracts.

Dave Watson, Scottish Organiser, said "UNISON has long argued on health and poverty grounds that we should be providing free school meals for all children. We are pleased that the Scottish Government now wants to extend the pilots nationally.

"However, we have serious concerns about the pressures on local government finance and the announcement seems to make no mention of the extra costs involved. If the Scottish Government is serious about children's health and wellbeing, it must put its money where its mouth is. Otherwise the success of the rollout seems at serious risk. UNISON also warned that - where Schools were built and run under PFI contracts - inflexible contracts may mean expensive renegotiations.

Dave said "Contracts with private companies will have been based on the take up of school meals under the old system. If free meals lead to the major increase in take up that these pilots have indicated, will the contracts allow for this, and will there be the staff and space to cope? There may be some expensive contract renegotiation ahead."

UNISON is keen to see the provision of free school meals introduced, and believes that the evaluation of the pilots in Scotland provides strong evidence in support of the universal provision of free school meals. The trial resulted in significantly increased uptake of school meals among the target group of P1-P3 pupils not free school meal (FSM) registered - from 41per cent to 69per cent, and the uptake amongst registered FSM pupils also increased - both in the target group and in older pupils.

Dave added, "Investing now in nutritious meals for children provides a range of important health, educational and social benefits, and also will save on future costs to the NHS by reducing obesity and other health problems. Indeed the costs of NOT introducing this measure, would be seriously damaging to the Scottish health service and indeed to the Scottish economy."


UNISON Scotland launched a Food for Good Charter earlier this year, promoting fresh healthy & sustainable food provision across the public sector. UNISON produced a briefing for MSPs in October 2007, urging them to support the pilot schemes which are now being rolled out.

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