AT least one local education authority in the region will be substantially out of pocket because of the extension of universal free school meals.
North Yorkshire County Council was allocated £1.2m – plus a further £184,000 for voluntary aided schools – in capital funding from the Government for 2014-15 to help with the implementation of the new free meals policy for under sevens.
But the county council’s school meals service, North Yorkshire County Caterers, has now spent more than £660,000 from its own reserves to ensure enough equipment was in place at the start of term this week to ensure every child received a hot two-course meal.
The extra spending, in a county which has the largest number of small primary schools in the country, has gone on extra cutlery, hot trolleys, ovens and additional refrigeration.
Because the capital funding from the Government only covered the cost of building three new kitchens - and North Yorkshire had 29 schools without kitchens before the initiative began - the council believes it will have to identify additional capital from its own resources to finish the job.
Some schools have increased the number of sittings to accommodate extra children and 26 schools will continue to have their meals transported in from another school as they do not have the facility to produce hot meals on site.
Arthur Baker, North Yorkshire’s executive member for schools said they supported a policy which delivered free school meals “to ensure all young, growing children are given good nutrition” but it was likely that the authority “will have to dig into our own limited capital resources in future to ensure all of our school kitchens can cope in the longer run.”
A feasibility study is underway to prioritise those schools likely to feel the greatest benefit given the limited capital involved.
Elsewhere across the region checks with local education authorities in Darlington, County Durham, Middlesbrough and Stockton confirmed that all infant and primary schools were serving hot lunches to the target age group. It is understood that Government allocations have covered costs in these areas.
At Redcar and Cleveland one school was relying on hot meals prepared at another school but work to ensure the school will be able to prepare its own hot food should be finished by the end of the year.