‘Food snatchers’ row over council budget

The 'golden age' of school meals in 1989 when dinnerlady Barbara Coulter retired from New Lanark Primary
The 'golden age' of school meals in 1989 when dinnerlady Barbara Coulter retired from New Lanark Primary

Labour has reacted furiously to SNP allegations that they have robbed hundreds of Clydesdale schoolchildren of free school meals.

The charge followed Labour claiming victory over the Nationalist administration in setting this year’s South Lanarkshire Council Budget, stating: “The SNP is in office but not in power.”

However, the Nationalists immediately shot back by claiming that it was a political victory won at the cost of their plan to give free school dinners to all Primary 4 and 5 pupils. This, in turn, has provoked calls from Labour for the SNP to retract the allegation and apologise for it.

The SNP were showing no signs of backing down this week andthe row contuinued as the Gazette went to press this week..

During the budget debate, Labour said money would be better spent on bringing in from August the ‘Free at 3’ policy, giving all children in South Lanarkshire free child care from their third birthdays and not from the next annual care enrolment date.

South Lanarkshire Labour Leader, Councillor Joe Fagan said: “Faced with a tight budget and tough choices, Labour put childcare first to give real help now to South Lanarkshire families.”

He said that they had also pushed up the school clothing grant. His party’s regional list MSP Claudia Beamish supported him, claiming that, under financial contraints, the council couldn’t afford the free school meal policy, given it would apply to children from rich families as well as those from poor ones.

However, the council leader, SNP councillor John Ross responded: “We proposed a budget to extend free school meals to Primary 4 and Primary 5s, increase the school clothing grant by 30 per cent and introduce free at 3 in 2020. By rejecting free school meals for Primary 4 and 5, the Labour Party and the Tories have stopped 6,000 children and families benefiting from a nutritious meal at school.”

Clydesdale SNP MSP Aileen Campbell, a one-time Scottish Government childrens minister. said: ““Not for the first time, we have seen Labour councillors in South Lanarkshire colluding with the Tories, this time to deny an extension of free, nutritious school meals to our P4 and P5 pupils. The research on the benefits of free schools meals is clear, and shows that extension of free school meals has advantages in terms of household budget, uptake of healthy meals, equality, and narrowing the attainment gap.”

Labour have now accused the SNP of “scaremongering”.