Hertfordshire County Council leader welcomes new ‘Covid Winter Support Fund’

Marcus Rashford has led national calls for the ‘free school meals’ scheme to be extended into holiday periods

Wednesday, 11th November 2020, 11:33 am
Updated Wednesday, 11th November 2020, 11:37 am

The leader of Hertfordshire County Council has welcomed the government’s commitment of £170million to support vulnerable families over the winter, which comes in the wake of a national campaign by England footballer Marcus Rashford.

Marcus Rashford has led national calls for the ‘free school meals’ scheme to be extended into holiday periods, as it was when schools were closed during the last ‘lockdown’.

And at the same time Liberal Democrat calls for county-wide support for families during school breaks are set to be debated at an extraordinary meeting of Hertfordshire County Council, later this month.

Hertfordshire County Council leader welcomes new ‘Covid Winter Support Fund’

On Sunday, November 8, the government announced a new package of measures designed ‘to ensure vulnerable households do not go hungry or without essential items’.

It includes a £170m Covid Winter Grant Scheme, which the government says this will allow councils to directly help the hardest-hit families and individuals – as well as provide food for children who need it over the holidays.

And it has also announced there will be £16million for food distribution charities too.

The funding has been welcomed by Conservative leader of Hertfordshire County Council Cllr David Williams, who is also chairman of the County Councils Network (CCN).

But leader of the council’s Liberal Democrat group Cllr Stephen Giles-Medhurst says he is still waiting to see whether the funding will be enough – before deciding whether or not to drop calls for further local action.

Speaking as chair of the CCN, Cllr Williams said: “We welcome today’s announcement of further welfare funding for councils to support families struggling with food and essentials through the pandemic.

“Over recent months, including the recent half term, county authorities have provided vital support to those suffering the most from economic and social hardship created by the Coronavirus.

“It is important that this funding is provided to upper tier local authorities, with maximum discretion to design and tailor schemes locally.

“We understand the needs of our communities best, and will work with our partners quickly to target support on those most in need.”

Cllr Giles-Medhurst says the governments announcement is “positive news” – but he says more work needs to be done locally to determine whether it is enough.

Pointing to the almost 20,000 children eligible for free school meals in Herfordshire, he said: “What’s not clear is whether £170million is any where near sufficient.

“The question is how much of that £170million will come to Hertfordshire – and whether that will then support those getting free school meals through the holidays.”

Earlier this month Liberal Democrat councillors requested an extraordinary meeting of the county council to discuss the provision of ‘free school meals’ – in meals or vouchers – over the holiday breaks in Hertfordshire, which is scheduled for November 17.

Cllr Giles-Medhurst says he would expect members to seek assurances that should government funds not be sufficient the county council would take action locally.