‘No money’ for free school meals for three and four-year-olds, says Croydon council

By Tara O’Connor, Local Democracy Reporter

There is “no money” to give free school meals to all three and four-year-olds in Croydon, the council has claimed.

But a report on the feasibility of expanding the borough’s free school meals program amid the cost of living crisis will still be put together.

It comes after the council’s Labour opposition put forward a motion for free lunches to be rolled out for young children in nurseries and primary schools.

It called for a report on the costs to do this be produced by the end of November.

The motion was opposed by the council’s ruling Conservative group, but a deadlocked vote meant civic mayor Councillor Alisa Flemming had the casting vote, and the motion was passed.

All children in reception to Year 2 are already entitled to free school meals.

At a council meeting on Wednesday night, Labour councillor Mike Bonello said: “Free school meals for nursery children help to address food insecurity and reduce childcare costs for parents.

“Families on low incomes have been hit from all angles recently, and now face mounting cost of living pressures.

“For some children their free school meals will be the only hot meal they get that day, maybe the only meal they get.

“By giving all nursery age children a free school meal we would not only help financially but emotionally. Parents can rest a little easier knowing their children have at least one hearty, nutritious meal.”

But Conservative councillor Alasdair Stewart said the council was not in the financial position to offer free school meals to more young children in the borough, blaming a budget with “more holes than Swiss cheese” left by the previous Labour administration.

He said: “Labour’s motion tonight doesn’t include information on how it would be funded, a proposal which would cost several million pounds every year.”

Votes were split with 31 councillor voting in favour to 31 voting against. The deciding vote came down to Councillor Alisa Flemming who voted in favour of the motion.

This means the council will have to publish a “detailed assessment” of an extension to the free school meals offer by the end of November this year, and which will be considered by the children and young people scrutiny committee in January 2023.

Pictured top: Bernard Weatherill House, Croydon council offices, Fell Road (Picture: Tara O’Connor)

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