Posted: Thu 16th May 2024

Flintshire Councillors approve summer food support for schoolchildren despite funding shortfall

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales


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Politicians in Flintshire have backed a scheme to prevent schoolchildren from going hungry over the summer holidays.

It comes despite a warning that Flintshire Council currently has no money available to meet the estimated £250,000 cost of providing payments to families of children in receipt of free school meals.

The initiative was originally introduced by the local authority last year to alleviate food poverty in the county over the Christmas break.

The council stepped in after a Welsh Government scheme to provide either a direct payment, vouchers or food to families facing financial difficulties during school holidays was closed in June 2023.

A motion calling on cabinet members to extend the programme over the upcoming summer break was recently tabled by Liberal Democrat councillor David Coggins-Cogan.

It was presented to the council’s AGM on Tuesday (May 14, 2024) after group leader Andrew Parkhurst said it was needed to stop children from going hungry.

He said: “Last year, following the Welsh Government’s last-minute withdrawal of funding, our full council overwhelmingly passed a motion for Flintshire to find a way to feed its hungry children during the school holidays.

“Following subsequent cross-party discussion, it was agreed to provide help during last year’s Christmas holidays, and to find a longer-term solution before this budget was set.

“The payments over Christmas were made and I do thank the leader and the previous cabinet for enabling this to happen.

“But nothing much has changed since no plan is in place. Nothing was put in the budget and as a result, children are still going hungry during the school holidays.”

He added: “Unfortunately, the motion before you is necessary. The cost will be around £250,000 for the summer holiday support.

“It’s a lot of money, but not so much as has been suddenly found without a bat of an eyelid for other unbudgeted expenditure and it will provide much needed assistance to some of the poorest in our communities.”

The Welsh Government admitted earlier this year that it had failed to follow the law when deciding to withdraw funding for free holiday meals.

Despite the acknowledgement, which followed a legal challenge being mounted by families, ministers said they couldn’t afford to reinstate financial support.

The amount paid to eligible children by Flintshire during the Christmas holidays was set at £25.

Cllr Coggins-Cogan, who represents Gwernaffield and Gwernymynydd, said the amount over the summer should not be less than £50 per child.

The scheme was supported by councillors from across the political spectrum, including Connah’s Quay South ward member Bill Crease (Ind).

He said: “There is no excuse in a modern society like ours to debate whether or not we should attack child poverty. There is no excuse as a group not to attack child poverty.

“If we have children who are hungry in Flintshire in the school holidays, it is beyond the pale to not consider supporting those children.”

However, Geoff Collett, Labour councillor for Mold South said he wanted more information before backing it.

He said: “We’ve tried this scheme before and until I get some feedback, I would like to reserve my position on this.

“How successful has this been in the past? What was the percentage of take up? Did the children most needing the service actually get the service?

“Until these items are clear, I don’t think we should commit more monies until we know how well the scheme went last time.”

Cllr Paul Johnson (Lab), cabinet member for finance, said he would support it but warned there would be a financial impact on the council.

He said: “Members will be clear that this motion will have a financial consequence in terms of this year and subsequent ones.

“I would expect there will be a budget pressures that will have to be considered.”

Cllr David Healey (Lab), cabinet member for economy, also voiced concerns after revealing the authority had previously come close to being issued with a section 114 notice.

The notices are generally given to councils which face bankruptcy unless they quickly gets their finances in order.

He said: “I don’t mean to be callous or lack compassion about something that is an absolute need.

“But last year, we only avoided a section 114 by the skin of our teeth.
“I’m going to vote for the motion of course, because there is a moral imperative, and I think we have to.

“But I am asking the question…where does the money come from? Has anyone got any bright ideas?”

Cllr Alasdair Ibbotson, who defected from Labour to become an independent earlier in the meeting, said the cost was less important than feeding hungry children.

He said: “We’re all aware of the budgetary situation in which we find ourselves in, but we do have choices.

“It’s wrong to reduce local government to a simple case of trying to account to the lowest common denominator and cut and cut and cut and not consider where we can be doing more.”

The motion was approved by 52 votes to one at the end of the debate, with only Cllr Collett opposing it.

A report will be brought to cabinet members with the final details of the scheme before June 3rd.

By Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter (more here).

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