Kids in primary schools throughout Argyll and Bute could soon be enjoying free glasses of milk.
A 10p charge to primary pupils for a portion of milk is likely to be scrapped at a meeting of the full council on Thursday.
The charge has been in place for six years following a budget decision.
With the roll out of free school meals in primary schools commencing in August, Argyll and Bute Council’s catering and cleaning service has taken a second glance at the policy.
Officers have identified that the charge will “no longer deliver significant income for the council” with the adoption of the Scottish Government’s new healthy food in schools guidance.
At Thursday’s meeting, councillors will be asked to remove the current 10p fee per 189ml portion of milk from August.
They are also being invited to note the wider benefits to children and young people of consuming milk.
Decision to remove the charge awaited
If the decision is taken to remove the charge, it will cost the council in the region of £21,700 a year.
A 10p fee to all pupils who paid for a school meal and wished to have milk with it was introduced following a budget decision in 2015.
The council said the move was to offset the higher than average costs it paid for milk provision. It was expected to bring in £30,000 a year.
Later, in 2017, the authority decided to extend the charge to all pupils in primary schools whether they received free meals or not.
Decline in the uptake of milk
The extension was expected to generate an extra £10,000 a year.
In real terms, due to a decline in the uptake of milk arising from the charges, the additional income generated in 2019/20 was £21,700.
In a report put before the council, Jayne Jones, commercial manager, informs members that officers have been working with the Child Poverty Action Group.
She writes: “In light of the pandemic, some children may benefit from increased access to drinking milk. Yet a charge of any value may mean that those children may be unable to afford to purchase milk at school.”
“Nutritional benefits to children”
Ms Jones continues: “Officers propose removing the 10p charge for the provision of milk for pupils in primary schools.
“Enabling milk to be provided free of charge will help to provide some of the nutritional benefits to children and young people that can no longer be provided through desserts.
“This change would also mean that both education staff and catering staff would
no longer be required to count, cash, bank and record 10p payments from parents, which can be a time consuming process.
“Parents would be able to ensure that their children can access milk for free,
without having to find 10p to pay for its provision, improving equity for all regardless of financial situation.
“This proposal could increase uptake of milk, which could have a positive impact
on local milk contractors who supply the catering and cleaning services, and would also benefit farming communities should milk volumes increase.”
Benefits for pupils, parents and staff
The report concludes: “Removing the previously applied charge of 10p per portion of milk would derive benefits for pupils, parents, catering and education staff and for the supply chain, and in light of recent Scottish Government policy changes it is anticipated that the removal of this charge would provide wider benefits to stakeholders.”
A Scottish Government roll out of free school meals for all primary pupils begins in August this year and will be completed in August next year.
By then there will be no cash transactions for school meals, with the exception of the 10p charge for milk, if councillors do not accept Thursday’s recommendation.