Essex schools had £800k shortfall from introduction of free school meals

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg visits Hazelmere Infant School and Nannas Day Nursery in Colchester

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg visits Hazelmere Infant School and Nannas Day Nursery in Colchester. - Credit: Archant

Schools in Essex have had to fork out £800,000 to get the free school meals initiative up and running.

The flagship Liberal Democrat policy was introduced in September, giving Key Stage One children – those at infant school – a free hot meal every day.

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg came to Colchester in April last year to launch the initiative.

The government gave Essex County Council (ECC) a £3.157million grant to help carry out kitchen improvements ahead of the scheme to ensure schools were up and running.

It has now been revealed in a Freedom of Information request that 19 schools got new kitchens – but that the county council was left with an £800,000 shortfall to complete the necessary works.

In its response ECC said it did not cover the gap, with funding instead being taken from schools’ budgets.

Jerry Glazier, Essex executive member of the National Union of Teachers, said: “We said at the time the logistics of the exercise were going to be challenging for some schools who did not necessarily have the facilities up and running to do this.

“I am disappointed if there has been this level of shortfall, and it shows the commitment by the previous government was not a complete one – and it should have been, particularly in the current climate where school funding is likely to be tough.

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“Schools will not be able to afford capital money for school meals and it’s absolutely the responsibility of the government to provide that, having done the initiative. It should have been fully funded.

“The vast majority of schools from across the region can ill-afford to fund this.”

Mr Glazier added that the NUT welcomed the initiative in general as “a positive move which would create a more equal playing field for learning”.