Northumberland's free school meal replacement system avoided food parcel problems seen elsewhere, committee hears

A voucher system helped Northumberland avoid the ‘criticism’ levelled at other areas over disappointing food parcels for children during the coronavirus pandemic, according to bosses.

By James Harrison
Thursday, 17th June 2021, 6:28 pm
Updated Friday, 18th June 2021, 8:44 am
Northumberland's voucher scheme helped avoid the food parcels fiasco seen elsewhere
Northumberland's voucher scheme helped avoid the food parcels fiasco seen elsewhere

Concerns closing schools would leave vulnerable families to go hungry during lockdown led to a campaign, spearheaded by England footballer Marcus Rashford, to force the government into action.

When the resulting cash was rolled out, some local authorities were slammed for the quality of the care packages put together for youngsters to replace their free school meal provision.

But leaders at Northumberland County Council (NCC) claim they were satisfied that the voucher system they opted for provided the best service for the county, as well as value for money.

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“We didn’t come to this not knowing what we were doing, we had our money from the government and we’d already done a significant amount of legwork to get our own voucher scheme set up,” said Guy Renner-Thompson, cabinet member for children and young people at NCC.

“Myself, the leader of the council and cabinet were very keen that we went for a voucher system and there was some criticism of food parcels that went out to some of our neighbouring authorities who chose to go down that route.

“But because of the size and the complexity of Northumberland, we were aware that a voucher system would be much easier to handle for the recipients of those meals.”

Cllr Renner-Thompson was speaking at a meeting of the county council’s Family and Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee, which met in person on June 17 for the first time in more than a year.

He added council bosses had opted for the HUGGG voucher scheme as it was one of the few available which would not take a cut of money spent through the scheme for administrators.

February half term and Easter holidays alone in 2021 saw almost £1million spent on supporting the county’s most vulnerable families.

More than 17,900 vouchers, worth a combined total of £815,565, were handed out just for food, with further payments on offer to help households with heating and other utility bills.

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