Making a meal of £1.8m school dinners

GLASGOW councillors enjoy nothing more than a good political barney and the chance to shout at each other.

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This week they are likely to do just that when they discuss the introduction of free school meals for all pupils in the first three years of primary school.

Last year Westminster announced it was to make money available for all Primary 1 to 3 children to get a free lunch.

It is a policy Glasgow councillors heartily agree with, so why the need for a verbal punch-up?

The problem is schools in England will be able to introduce the policy from the start of the school year in August.

But Scots councils will only get cash to feed their youngest pupils from January 2015.

On Thursday, all 79 elected members gather for the full council meeting - the only time they all sit down together in the same room.

City leader Gordon Matheson plans to point out the delay in being able to introduce free school meals is down to the Scottish Government holding back the cash until January.

Onlookers may think that would result in a few red faces among the SNP opposition in the City Chambers. But it take a lot for politicians to be embarrassed about the actions of their bosses in national Government.

Indeed, the city's SNP group is planning to try and harry its Labour opponents by insisting they introduce free lunches from August this year.

SNP councillor Norman MacLeod, who is shadow City Treasurer, will reveal he is "flattered and very happy" that almost everyone agrees with him that free school meals for P1-P3 youngsters is a good idea.

He will remind them he first proposed their introduction in February last year, but that the move was voted down by Labour.

And Mr MacLeod will demand they fall in line with his views and introduce the policy in August.

Children from less well-off families already qualify for free lunches. But the cost of extending that to all youngsters in the first three years of primary between August and December would be about £1.8million.

In an ideal world, the council could dip into its back pocket and produce the cash to implement the policy from the start of the school year.

The reality is Glasgow does not live in an ideal world and, like many families across the city, is having to watch the pennies.

As a result, the only way to find the cash to meet Mr MacLeod's demands would be to take it from somewhere else.

It will be interesting to learn where the SNP plans to find the necessary £1.8m.

Opposition councillors say it can be found only by putting up charges or by cutting cash from other areas.


Local government

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