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Powys Council agrees £280K to fund free school meals over summer holiday 

POWYS County Council’s Liberal Democrat/Labour administration has agreed to give £280,000 to provide youngsters with free school meals over the summer holiday.

At the Cabinet meeting on Thursday, July 18 councillors stressed that this would be a “one off” support.

At the end of June, the Welsh Government told councils across Wales that it would stop funding free school meals (FSM) holiday payments.

Funding for FSM during holidays by the Welsh Government started in March 2020 as part of the Covid-19 pandemic response and was extended many times up until the May half term.

The Government has said that it no longer has the money to do this, and the decision has been criticised by opposition Senedd Members as well as its own Labour back benchers.

The holidays in Powys start on Monday, July 24 and children will return to school on Monday, September 4.

The council has calculated that the cost of supplying free school meals over 30 days at a cost of £3.90 each for 2,400 children will be £280,000 which will come from a Central Risk Budget.

Deputy council leader and tackling poverty portfolio holder Labour’s Cllr Matthew Dorrance said: “We’re proposing this because the lateness of the Welsh Government announcement means that people in our communities with children that depend on this scheme will have insufficient time to adjust to the change or financially plan to ensure they can feed their children.

“From talking to people in my own community, there was real hope and gratitude that we would help them get through a particularly difficult period.”

“We don’t need to be clear this is one off funding and won’t be in a position to continue this through further holidays.”

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Cllr Matthew Dorrance

Finance portfolio holder, Labour’s Cllr David Thomas said: “As it stands it’s a one off suggestion, there is no extra money in the budget to cover extra holidays – that’s not to say it’s not something we’ll decided to revisit in the future.”

Education portfolio holder, Liberal Democrat, Cllr Pete Roberts said that headteachers were relieved when told of the support scheme being set up by the council.

Cllr Roberts said: “There’s severe concerns that for some families six weeks is too long.

“The absence of FSM, in many cases the only hot meal some would get each day left some headteachers concerned you would see evidence of malnutrition when pupils came back (to school in September).”

“There are significant problems with children getting hot meals and the impact that has on their physiological and mental development.

“It is something that should not be left to individual county councils to deal with and should be dealt with at UK level as we go forward.”

Cllr Pete Roberts

Powys anti-poverty champion non-affiliated, Cllr Joy Jones said: “I support this, it’s extremely important this year.

“Sadly here in Newtown and across Powys we’re seeing deprivation and poverty affecting so many families.

“There are so many families afraid of the enormous impact the summer holidays will have on their budgets.”

The decision was agreed unanimously by cabinet.