Hertfordshire councillors call for extraordinary meeting to discuss free school meals in holidays

A number of Liberal Democrat councilors in Hertfordshire are calling on the county council to set up its own local system

Tuesday, 27th October 2020, 2:16 pm
Updated Tuesday, 27th October 2020, 2:18 pm

Plans are being made for an extraordinary meeting of the county council, so councillors can consider the provision of free school meals during the holidays.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has refused to extend the national free school meals scheme to cover school holidays.

But now a number of Liberal Democrat councilors in Hertfordshire are calling on the county council to set up its own local system – even if it has to be funded from the council’s own reserves.

The photo has been used for illustration purposes

The five Lib Dem councillors have already asked for an extraordinary meeting of Hertfordshire County Council so the issue can be considered.

And confirming the request, the council’s chief legal officer Quetin Baker says it is ‘anticipated’ that a date for that meeting will be ‘announced shortly’.

Leader of the Liberal Democrat group Cllr Stephen Giles-Medhurst says this will be the first time an extraordinary meeting has been called by the opposition in more than 10 years.

But, he says: “. . . it’s essential that the County, as the education authority, steps up to the mark if the government will not”.

Cllr Giles-Medhurst says it is a “disgrace” that children could go hungry during school holidays.

And he says: “If the government will not find the money then Herts County Council with millions in reserves must step in.

“It must act and follow the lead that other Conservative-run councils have taken.

“The County may have missed the boat for this half term, but there are other school holidays coming up and it must act now.”

The move comes just days after the holiday provision of free school meals was discussed by a scheduled meeting of the full council.

At that meeting (October 20) the ongoing work of England footballer Marcus Rashford – to make sure all children have enough to eat during the school holidays – was highlighted.

And a motion – amended by the Conservative group – agreed that the council ‘expects’ the government to ‘judge’ the role of social security payments to “ensure that families struggling to feed children through the school holidays are supported effectively”.

But councillors stopped short of calling on the government to extend the of provision of free school meals in school holidays.

At that meeting the Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Cllr Mark Watkin highlighted the 2.2million school children aged between eight and 17 who were currently registered for free school meals across the country.

And he stressed that 900,000 of these children had become eligible since the emergence of the Covid pandemic.

Following the request for the extraordinary meeting, deputy leader of the county council Cllr Teresa Heritage has stepped in to highlight the support that’s already available.

And in a statement issued by the county council, Cllr Heritage – who is also executive member for children, young people and families – said: “We remain committed to supporting families at this difficult time and want to reassure all our residents that help is at hand for those who need it right now.

“We work closely with families across the county and support several schemes and initiatives providing additional extra help, including financial support, food and provision of other household supplies to families in need.

“Over the past six months we have provided additional support to more than 3,500 children and young people.

“We’ve worked more closely than ever with local voluntary and community groups, including providing £120,000 of funding for local foodbanks, enabling them to use their local knowledge to best meet the needs of their communities.

“We’ve offered grants to families facing financial difficulties to help with the costs of food, bills and the purchase of other household essentials, and these grants are still available.

“We have created a brand-new social care team to provide support to families adversely affected by the pandemic, including many who wouldn’t previously have accessed services.

“We understand the strength of feeling around the issue of holiday hunger in our communities, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on many families across the county.

“Ultimately, no child in Hertfordshire should be going hungry and we are working hard to ensure this doesn’t happen.”

More information about Herts Help can be found at www.hertshelp.net. And they can be contacted at [email protected] or by calling 0300 123 4044.

A number of businesses in Dacorum have been offering free school lunches to children in the area. Read full story