Potential £5million bill for free school meals in Highland

Providing free school meals to the Highland’s youngest pupils could require a £5million investment, councillors have been told.

The Scottish Government announced plans earlier this year for every child in P1-3 to get free meals.

The scheme will start from January and local authorities across the country are assessing how to deliver the policy.

In Highland, a project co-ordinator has been appointed to ensure that the council implements the initiative in the 169 primary schools.

A report by education officials said that 30 schools require significant work.

A total of 11 have no school meals provision at all and Norma Murray, facilities services manager, said that discussions were ongoing with the Scottish Government about the practical and financial constraints in providing meals at these locations.

Historically any families entitled to free meals were paid a daily rate.

However alterations may be required to buildings to increase kitchen and dining space.

And other possible changes are additional lunch sittings, extra staff and more tables and chairs.

The council’s deputy leader David Alston said: “It is a complicated issue for the council to firm up how much is needed but we estimate that around £5million may be required initially.”

Revenue funding from the Scottish Government will be £793,000 this year, rising to £2.6million in 2015/16.

Margaret Somerville, director of public health at NHS Highlands, suggested that the council could work with care homes and hospitals to deliver meals in some areas.

It is also hoped that the scheme could increase the uptake of school meals in later years.

Meanwhile Argyll council is running a free school meals trial to ensure it is capable of fulfilling the Scottish Government’s plan to feed youngsters for nothing.

The Press and Journal recently highlighted that pupils on the island of Iona may be given meals provided by a local hotel because the school has not kitchen.