'No child will go hungry' - Northumberland children's services chief defends free school meals policy

The senior councillor responsible for children’s welfare has defended Northumberland’s response to the free school meals row, claiming ‘no child will go hungry this half-term’.

By Ben O'Connell
Thursday, 29th October 2020, 1:27 pm
Updated Thursday, 29th October 2020, 2:58 pm
Cllr Guy Renner-Thompson
Cllr Guy Renner-Thompson

This followed the Government’s refusal to back a Labour motion to provide children eligible for free school meals with £15-a-week vouchers during the holidays up to Easter 2021, as happened over the summer.

But the response in Northumberland was criticised by opposition councillors due to the lack of a consistent countywide offer, as well as the timing and nature of the announcement.

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It is understood that officers advised councillors that a countywide initiative could not be set up in time for half-term following the Commons vote late on Wednesday, October 21.

Now, Cllr Guy Renner-Thompson, the cabinet member for children’s services, has suggested that the new £2,000 grants can cover the costs of food vouchers for all that need them.

“Firstly, I would like to thank officers of the council who have worked as quickly as possible to have a free school meal support scheme ready for the half-term,” he said.

“With all 67 councillors allotted £2,000 to support schools, community groups and town and parish councils, that totals £134,000 councillors can use to help their communities in this difficult time. If all 8,818 children in receipt of free school meals received a £15 voucher for the half-term that would amount to £132,270.

“We won’t stop there and alternative sources of funding are being investigated.

“This targeted approach to community groups et al, combined with the fantastic Northumberland Communities Together team which residents can contact to be guided towards such groups and given help to navigate the benefits system, means no child will go hungry this half-term.

“We have fantastic communities in all four corners of Northumberland and we are doing everything possible to support them and individuals in need.

“The list of groups which have come forward to help children in need is too long to mention each one individually, but they all deserve our most heartfelt praise and thanks.

“The Northumberland Communities Together helpline is open seven days a week on 01670 620015 or email [email protected]

Cllr Martin Swinbank, an Alnwick town councillor, welcomed the announcement, but called for a fair share for residents in Alnwick, Alnmouth and Lesbury, which are covered by a two-seat ward with two councillors.

Currently, however, there is only one representative, Cllr Gordon Castle, after Cllr Robbie Moore was elected as the MP for Keighley in December 2019 and then the May elections were postponed due to Covid-19.

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