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Free School Meals Row Rages in Guildford and Political Tempers Begin to Fray

Published on: 26 Oct, 2020
Updated on: 27 Oct, 2020

By Martin Giles

The political row over extending free school meal provision engulfed Guildford over the weekend.

This morning, reports said the government, faced with dissent simmering among its own party members, were likely to perform yet another U-turn. This evening, the BBC said Prime Minister Boris Johnson was standing his ground.

He was said to be was “very proud” of the government’s support so far, adding: “I totally understand the issue of holiday hunger. The debate is, how do you deal with it?”

The government, he said, will “do everything in our power to make sure no kid, no child goes hungry”.

Angela Richardson

On Saturday (October 24), during another Conservative “Action Day”, this time outside Waitrose in Haydon Place, Guildford’s MP Angela Richardson told Stuart Alexander, aka “Big Mouth Guildford”, in a video interview for his Facebook page, that some did not understand the level of support already given by the government.

She said: “What concerns me more than the opposition tactics is the fact that there could be people out there who could be genuinely struggling to make ends meet, have really difficult circumstances and don’t know the measure of the support package that has been put in place over the summer for people who are struggling.

“I think now, 99.9% of schools are back open and these children are back to school, their teachers are able to engage with them and ensure they are being looked after and at the same time the welfare system has been improved massively [with] £9 billion more put in.

“That’s for new claimants but it is also for Universal Credit where people have had an increase of up to £1,000 per year.

“But what’s really important, not only do schools know their children but local councils know the children who need help the most, which is why the government gave an extra £63 million to councils.

“So this is not a case of Tories voting to take food away from hungry children over half-term, this is so we can give support in a much more targeted way to those children who need it.

“The key message is, if you know somebody who needs help get in touch with me, it’s confidential, or Citizen’s Advice… and we will try to help as much as possible as we have been helping people throughout the pandemic so far.”

Cllr George Potter (Lib Dem, Burpham) swiftly struck back, accusing Guildford’s MP of lying:

Cllr Potter expanded his argument on Facebook although Ms Richardson had clearly stuck to the official government position on payments and has objected to his accusation.

Today, Cllr Julia McShane (Westborough), for the borough council’s Lib Dem group, disputed the generosity of government support. “GBC is working with charities and voluntary groups to do everything it can to prevent children going hungry over the school holidays” she said.

Cllr Julia McShane campaigning in 2019

“Families in need of food over half-term should contact their school for a referral, or they can call the GBC helpline on 01483 444400.

“For the Prime Minister to claim councils are receiving government support for this work is incredibly misleading.

“In June, £63 million (which equates to approximately £1.12 per person [of England’s population]) was shared across all the councils in England to help fund food parcels and essential supplies for those in need. Of this funding, £78,790 was made available to Guildford.

“We have been using this and other Covid-19 funding to provide food parcels and other support for those in need, some of whom will have been families with children receiving free school meals.

“We continue to choose to provide this support although none of the funding was specifically allocated to extend free school meal provision.

“No further government funding has been made available since June to specifically support free school meals for children over the school holidays. The support GBC and other councils across England are providing for children is being funded from our own resources and from charities.

“For the Prime Minister to use the £63 million figure to suggest councils have been given funding to help children eligible for free school meals is misleading at best, and verging on dishonest at worst.”

Sir Paul Beresford

Earlier, Sir Paul Beresford MP for Mole Valley which includes the eastern wards of Guildford borough sent a statement to The Dragon.

“Free school meals were always intended to serve one specific role, ensuring pupils could concentrate in lessons during term time.

“This has always been the position under various governments of different political complexions. That is that free school meals have been provided only during term time.

“As these are provided by the schools in school time, the first problem is that the schools are closed for the mid-term break which produces an obvious problem on provision.

“Of course, I am concerned on provision for the vulnerable children and I have a long-term record of support for children. That concern includes those children who during term time receive free school meals.

“Consequently, I have, with other Conservative MPs, written to ministers asking that consideration be given for these children over this break. Last week the Local Government department granted Mole Valley District Council a further £100,000 and Guildford Council another £107,000.”

“I have deep concerns for many families and individuals all who are joining the list of the temporarily, at least, unemployed in Mole Valley constituency.

“One of the most obvious examples will be those who are affected by the staffing reductions at Gatwick airport, whether they actually work at the airport or are in secondary support, plus many others including those in the extensive events Industry which employs a considerable number of people within Mole Valley.”

Cllr Joss Bigmore

GBC leader Joss Bigmore said: “We are obviously grateful for any support from government but this is loose-change compared to the scale of the financial impact. So far we have received just under £2 million in various grants from Westminster.

“Contrast this with our increased expenditure of £4.5 million and revenue losses of £8.2 million. We are hopeful we can reclaim £5 million from the compensation scheme announced by the Local Government department to counteract some of the revenue impact but our claim is being assessed and we haven’t received anything.

“That means in the best possible scenario, the council will be required to use about £6 million of its own reserves to balance the budget.

“This is a very challenging time for all layers of government but I admit I’m a little tired of MPs trying to spend a single £100,000 a number of times. What would be more helpful would be for our MPs to lobby such that we could borrow to fund the budget gap rather than impact our reserves.”

A GBC statement read: “We have been allocated £78,000 of funding from Surrey County Council that we are using to help support our vulnerable residents, including those who qualify for free school meals. We are using the funds to:

  • Work in partnership with Foodwise TLC to provide families with cooked school meals;
  • Offer food parcels to families and vulnerable people who need support, both during half-term and when they are self-isolating;
  • Store and distribute frozen meals donated by various businesses from our Park Barn Centre; and
  • Provide grants to local food banks and other community organisations to help support families and other vulnerable people in our community with food parcels.

“For support with food parcels, prescriptions or if you’re in need of support, our community helpline is open Monday to Thursday: 8:30am – 5pm (4.30pm Friday) on 01483 444400.”

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test 5 Responses to Free School Meals Row Rages in Guildford and Political Tempers Begin to Fray

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    October 27, 2020 at 6:02 am

    It is disingenuous of Cllr Potter and McShane to quote a figure of £1 per person, across the entire population, as the majority do not need additional financial support. This is but more virtue signalling from the lib dems. Where do they suggest the money comes from? How about a cut in councillors’ allowances?

  2. Robert Good Reply

    October 27, 2020 at 2:42 pm

    Perhaps Angela Rayner could tell us how much per day it cost the taxpayer to have Mr Johnson’s “Eat out to Help Out” and how much per day for school meals?

  3. Jacob Allen Reply

    October 27, 2020 at 3:25 pm

    “Free school meals were always intended to serve one specific role, ensuring pupils could concentrate in lessons during term time…” What an obscene comment. Free school meals are to feed hungry children, end of story.

    Jacob Allen is a Guildford Labour Party activist

  4. Stuart Alexander Reply

    October 27, 2020 at 6:16 pm

    Thank you for highlighting my post at the weekend but I’m afraid my name is Stuart Alexander not Stuart Anderson.

    Editor’s comment: We sincerely apologise to Mr Alexander. The article has been corrected.

  5. Peta Malthouse Reply

    October 27, 2020 at 10:38 pm

    In 2019 the UK published a report laying bare the results of 10 years of austerity policy. They commented that as the fifth-richest nation it was surprising that the poorest should have been subjected to such cuts and, crucially, that austerity did not of itself justify it. Instead, it was driven by an ideological desire to dismantle the welfare state.

    Read it here and try and understand. Things have changed from when you were young and very much for the worse.

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