Anger over plans to hike Derbyshire school meal prices

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There is a lot of opposition to the proposals

Hundreds of people have signed a petition opposing council plans to hike Derbyshire school meal prices by an “extortionate” 95p.

Derbyshire County Council wants to increase school meal prices from £2.30 to £3.25 to combat the “soaring” costs of food and staffing due to inflation and pay rises.

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In response, more than 1,800 people have signed a petition in just three days, as of this article’s publication, opposing that proposed hike and instead suggesting a lower increase to match the national average price of £2.65 – a rise of 15 per cent instead of 41 per cent.

The petition, launched by the council’s Labour group leader Councillor Joan Dixon on July 14, states: “Families are struggling enough already, so to hike school meal prices by 95p per day for each child will make school meals unaffordable for many families.

“A healthy nutritious meal is very important to help children learn, so they shouldn’t be priced out of school dinners.

“Derbyshire’s proposed increase to £3.25 is far higher than other councils, where the average cost of a primary school meal is due to rise to £2.65p.

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“Neighbouring councils such as Cheshire East charge just £2.30 and in Nottinghamshire schools charge between £2.30 and £2.58.

“The cost increases that Derbyshire (county council) cites don’t justify such a huge increase which is unfair on families and risks our excellent in-house catering service becoming unviable if not enough families can afford school meals.”

The petition asks that the issue be sent to the council’s health scrutiny committee and full council to “look at the wider impact that it could have on children’s health if they cannot afford school meals, and also to scrutinise the price rise and explore the reasons behind it”.

Cllr Ed Fordham, Liberal Democrat group leader on the council, said: “There are people who keep charging money to a credit card and don’t see it mount up and other people who count the money out of their purse and this is a hike which people can’t take.

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“The consequence of the hike is that children will go hungry, not that the council will lose money.

“That is the choice they have made and it makes me sick to my stomach to know there will be children in schools who might be going hungry because of this.”

Cllr Philip Rose, leader of the council’s Reform UK group, said: “We are disappointed with the increase in the cost of school meals.

“The rise in the cost of school meals is yet another attack on our children and working families. I suggest all school meals should be free.”

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Cllr Gez Kinsella, the council’s sole Green Party councillor, said: “An over 40 per cent increase in the price of school meals will shock many families.

“Instead of this extortionate price increase, the Conservatives should be looking at changing the threshold where working families on low incomes receive free school meals instead of further harming those already disproportionately affected by food inflation and energy costs.

“I for one am willing to work with the Conservatives to explore how those who can least afford this increase are protected.”

Council statements announcing the proposed increase state: “We all know a nutritious meal can help boost a child’s ability to learn so, if you’re a parent, you’ll be glad to hear that despite the soaring costs of food and staffing, our school pupils will continue to receive hot and healthy meals of the same quality and size.”

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The authority said wage changes and staffing costs have increased the cost of the school meal service by £1.28 million since April 2022, with the authority providing 60,000 meals to 358 Derbyshire schools.

It said the price hikes would not affect Key Stage One pupils (ages five to seven), who receive free school meals, or families who are eligible for benefit-related free school meals.

The council said the price increase will only be used to cover the cost of the service, which it says is not legally allowed to make a profit.

It also increased the price of school meals by 10p in 2022 following a freeze in 2021 and a further 10p increase in 2020.

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Prices were frozen in 2019 but there was a 10p increase in 2018, before which there had been three years of price freezes.

Cllr Alex Dale, the county council’s cabinet member for education, said: “The decision to increase meal prices has been an incredibly difficult one which we’ve made very reluctantly, given the pressures we know families across the county are facing.

“However, unfortunately our catering service is not immune to the soaring costs of ingredients and staffing.

“The increase has been calculated to only cover those increased costs so that the service can continue to be viable and sustainable for the future, and there is no intention - nor are we legally allowed - to make any profit from school meals.

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“Our prices have always compared favourably to other local authorities and catering services.

“Evidence shows that a nutritious meal can boost a child’s ability to learn so it’s vitally important that we don’t compromise on quality, healthy ingredients or reduce meal portion sizes.

“It’s also particularly important that we continue to provide quality food for children in low-income families who may rely on us for a hot meal every day.

“Our school catering service has been doing a fantastic job in a very challenging time and a portion of the price increase will cover increased staffing costs, helping to retain our 1,500 valued staff.

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“We are acutely aware that the cost of living crisis continues to put lots of families under significant pressure and I’d encourage anyone who may be struggling to look at the support available through the Household Support Fund, check their eligibility for free school meals or get general support and advice, details of which are available on our website.”

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