Increase to school meal prices to go ahead after challenges fail

The prices of school meals is set to go up
By Jamie Waller, Local Democracy Reporter

Attempts to stop changes which could see the price of school meals rising across Nottinghamshire have failed.

The daily price the county council charges schools for the meals was set to increase by 40p from £2.55 to £2.95 each.

The Conservative-run council says it’s been forced to make the hike due to rising costs of food, energy and staffing.

It will be down to individual schools to determine whether to pass the cost increases on to families. Free school meals for children who qualify will not be affected.

The council’s Labour group and Independent Alliance attempted to ‘call in’ the decision last month – meaning it would be subject to further debate – claiming there had been errors with the decision making.

However, both challenges are now confirmed to have failed.

The opposition groups said there hadn’t been enough advance notice of the rise and that it had been planned without a consultation,

There was also concern about whether it would harm poorest families most.

A report will go before the council’s Overview Committee on Thursday (November 23) rejecting claims that the council had broken any decision-making rules.

It says there is no legal requirement to hold consultations – although there were informal discussions with schools – and the correct procedures were followed.

The response adds children who receive free school meals wouldn’t be financially affected.

The report says: “The duty sits with schools to provide school meals, not the council.

“Schools are at liberty to choose how they provide school meals and how much they charge parents who are not in receipt of free school meals, and could choose not to pass the costs on to parents in full or in part.”

Nottinghamshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Communities, Councillor John Cottee said: “The Council’s decision-making and scrutiny processes have been followed entirely correctly in relation to this decision, meaning it can now be implemented.  A letter will be sent to schools very shortly confirming the date from which this change to the price of a council-supplied school meal will take effect.

“We gave very careful consideration to this matter before reaching a decision, but in light of the recent spike in inflation it was necessary to balance the rising cost of making and delivering a school meal against our absolute commitment to ensuring that Nottinghamshire children continue to receive a high-quality, nutritious school meal product.

“Even after this price change is implemented, the cost of school meals in Nottinghamshire will still compare favourably with other areas, and the Council continues to subsidise the overall cost of providing these meals to keep the price as low as we realistically can.”

The price hike had originally been scheduled to come into force in October, but was put on hold due to the challenge.

Nottinghamshire County Council has not yet confirmed a new date for the rise.

The mechanism of ‘calling in’ a decision is supposed to be used in exceptional circumstances when councillors are severely concerned about the ruling cabinet’s actions.

Councillor Francis Purdue-Horan (Ind) said: “We are obviously disappointed that the call in to re-examine options has been rejected.

“The Independents are very concerned about families where children just miss out on free school meals.

“The cost of living crisis certainly hasn’t gone away, whatever politicians say.

“This increase should have been properly looked at again to see how we could better help residents.”

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