New school dinner rules adds £65k to council budget

Argyll and Bute Council

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School meal standards are placing an additional strain on Argyll and Bute Council’s budget, a meeting has heard.

A report revealed that new food and drink standards from the Scottish Government has handed the council an extra £65,000 every year in costs.

It led council leader Robin Currie to seek clarity on whether this was due to the pandemic.

But executive director Kirsty Flanagan said it was not and that costs and demand had arisen around school meals.

Ms Flanagan said: ‘There have been new regulations on what we are allowed to give children as part of a school meal, and that has brought about an increase in costs.

‘One example of this would be that we are only allowed to give pupils a specific type of yoghurt, and demand is pushing costs up.’

Councillor Alastair Redman said meagre meals could see pupils seek food from shops.

Fellow executive director Douglas Hendry added that the uptake of school meals had not been at the same level as prior to the pandemic.

Mr Hendry said: ‘Schools only opened at the back end of August, but it is looking as if the uptake of meals and income from them is down. That is something we have an eye on.’

The debate took place as councillors took a long-term look at the budget for 2021-26 at a meeting of the council’s policy and resources committee.

A response from the Scottish Government suggested the council was sufficiently funded to absorb new costs.

The council’s finance settlement for 2020-21 was £219.7 million to fund local services, a government spokesperson said in a statement.

The spokesperson said: ‘Taken together with the council’s decision to increase council tax by 4.5 per cent, the council had an initial extra £12.5million to support vital day-to-day services in 2020-21 which was the equivalent of an additional 6.3 per cent on 2019-20.’

The government pointed out that as a result of the pandemic it had also allocated Argyll and Bute an ‘additional’ £8.4 million, alongside £37 million to support local businesses.

The council is also set to receive a share of £178 million awarded to Scotland’s 32 local authorities.

Amended regulations for the provision of school food and drink will also be introduced from April 2021.

They are aimed at making school food ‘even healthier’ by reducing sugar, increasing the availability of fruit and vegetables, and placing a maximum on red and red processed meat that can be served in a school week.