Hull and free school meals

Readers may remember I pointed to the bid Lib Dem councillors in Hull to end early an experiment about whether providing free school meals to every child had the potential to improve the health of all children in the city’s schools.  A move that as branded shameful by child poverty campaigners.

I now read that the issue is to be decided at the ballot box in May; with the Lib Dems going to the electorate pledged to cut the scheme, while Labour look like they’ll want to keep things going.

As the council is hung I’d guess this may become a defining issue for the campaign.

About Andrew Brown

I live in Lewisham, South East London, and spent 9 years as a Labour councillor in the borough between 1997 and 2006.
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7 Responses to Hull and free school meals

  1. Lone Ranger says:

    I can see how the scheme can improve the eating habits of children but I can also see how it may not be money well spent.

    According to one report there has been a 95% take up of the free meals scheme in Hull. Sounds good, but are 95% of children in Hull living in poverty?

    If 60-70% of the population can already afford a healthy diet could it be argued it is those who are being rewarded financially by the scheme. While those who are regarded as being deprived end up paying more for ‘free’ meals through higher council taxes?

    Does that make sense?

    Anyway on your first comment on this matter you began by stating…”Apparently the mainstream political parties are “all the same” and in any case they aren’t really needed any more.”

    And cited the free meals as example, but let’s bring this closer to home Lewisham has a directly elected mayor, Greenwich and Lambeth as far as I am aware haven’t considered the possibilty.

    Although having just recieved a bad press Lewisham Council supports and has expanded the Street Wardens scheme to make safer neighbourhoods. Lambeth council has said Wardens are inaffective and the money better spent.

    Does it demonstrate the differences between political parties or does actually come down to differences of opinion among individuals?

    Maybe politicians should drop party labels and employ Public Relations companies to act on their behalf?

    Sorry for going off at a tangent….but it had to be said, on behalf of the 70% of of the electorate who don’t vote in local elections. 😉

  2. andrewkbrown says:

    On FSM, the thing is that this was an experiment to see whether by removing the stigma around free school meals you’d improve take-up and improve children’s health. The interim findings seemed very positive, but the in-coming Lib Dem councillors didn’t want to find out if it was effective, believing that the 1% of their education budget could be spent on better things.

    I have to admit not to having followed Lambeth’s debate on wardens as closely as you. There was certainly considerable debate in the Cabinet when I was a member about the relative merits of wardens and what the evidence had been about their effectiveness. But you’ll have to point me to the bad press that the warden’s have had as I can’t recall seeing this.

    The point I’d make about the decision on this though is that both Lambeth and Lewisham Labour politicians are trying to achieve the same aim. To reduce crime and the fear of crime, whether that’s done by employing wardens directly or paying for additional PCSOs seems mute to me.

    As for employing PR firms, where’s the money for that going to come from then? Not the 70% who don’t vote at election time I suspect.

  3. Lone Ranger says:

    The story isn’t online so here’s a brief outlsine…

    Last Friday’s South London Press and this week’s Mercury carry reports from an ‘insider’ warning the Lewisham warden scheme needs major improvements. That, “Wardens do not have a clue what they are meant to be doing.” He alleges wardens are inadequately trained leving staff ill-prepared to deal with “some of the most difficult and demanding people on the streets.”

    A professional involved in the warden service also raises concerns in the article.

    There are also allegations about the activities of some wardens and in response to a councillor’s question the council reported 4 wardens were suspended in 2005 and 5 last year.

    A council spokeman said the council could not comment on unsubstantiated claims. He said the council took the integrity of the wardens very seriously and if necessary take the appropriate disciplinary action.

    The article points out there are 44 wardens in 6 schemes and council intend to reduce layers of management by joining the schemes together to form a borough wide service. In addition the council hope to provide better pay, a chance to gain an NVQ and possibly give wardens the power to issue fixed penalty notices.

  4. Lone Ranger says:

    On the FSM I can see the pros and cons of the idea, if there is a stigma about free school meals I can think of other ways that can be over come. As you know, what appear to be small sums of money can
    have a significant affect on council tax increases.

    I was confused by the FSM articles. The first one said the experiement was being cut short but the latest report says it was due to end this month.

    By chance the front page of the Mercury reports on a Lewisham family with 2 adult children with special needs who will be affected by changes to the council’s adult social care services. Apparently savings of £1.72M will mean such things as transport to day centres and staff costs will be cut.

    Nick O’shea, chairman of Lewisham Mencap said “Services will be cut and there is no guarantee any extra money will be found.”

    Ignoring the rights and wrongs of the situation. I understand the Mayor agreed the budget and full council were then asked for approval. If that is correct and with a hung(ish) council, come election time will the Mayor say success is due to him and councillors of all parties working together or will it be due to one party alone?

    I don’t recall any of the Young Mayor candidates standing on a party platform and has been deemed a success in engaging young people in democracy and the election process. Maybe the adult councillors should seek free advice from their younger counterparts?


    Breaking News: I see in the latest performace figures the take up of free meals in Lewisham schools has declined and the council is to investigate a system of ‘cashless tills’.

  5. andrewkbrown says:

    I’ll leave the issue about wardens where it is for the moment, if you don’t mind. I don’t feel as if I’ve got enough information to comment usefully.

    As you say there are different ways to organise the way that free school meals are handled by schools, and as an aside cashless tills sound like a good idea to me.

    The experiment in Hull would have been cut short by the incoming Lib Dems – had they had the votes in the chamber. The fact it wasn’t is because they can’t force their view through and there appears to be a majority on the council in favour of continuing the experiment. Which is why the issue will be resolved at the ballot box.

    As for Lewisham Council’s budget its clear that the budget is proposed by the Mayor, and ratified by Council, but as you may have seen elsewhere other parties aren’t adverse in trying to show they have some “influence”.

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  7. Unitypete says:

    What you may not know, is the reason the Lib \ Dems gave for objecting to the healthy free school meals.

    They say that it is wrong to subsidise those parents who may be earning £50000. Yet they are quite happy to subsidise those ratepayers age 60 and over who earn £50000 by the giving of a free bus pass that has no time restrictions on the use.

    My thoughts, if there where many parents or even anyone earning £50000 in Hull we would be surprised. It is a low wage area.

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