No such thing as a free lunch

14 Jul

When the mayor was running for re-election back in 2014 he promised to ‘Continue Free School Meals for Primary School Children’.

Newham Labour Party’s Local Government Manifesto said:

…our Labour Mayor and Councillors have launched the Every Newham Child programme which helps all our kids achieve more.the Every Newham Child programme which helps all our kids achieve more. Working in partnership with our schools this includes:

Free School Meals for all our primary children which is worth £566 per child to hard working families each year…

Most people reading this – including the party’s own candidates – believed this was a promise to fully fund the provision of free schools meals. But it turns out that was wrong. While central government funds meals for infants (key stage 1) and there is a statutory requirement to fund free meals for children from deprived families, the council only contributes 40% of the costs for the remaining key stage 2 pupils – schools have had to find the rest from their own funds.

With budgets getting ever tighter as public spending cuts bite, a number of schools threatened to opt out of the scheme. Initially, the mayor put his fingers in his ears and pretended not to hear them. 

But in May the council offered to increase funding to 60%.

19 schools told the council it was still unaffordable and they would start charging children for school meals from September. Which would be hugely embarrassing for Sir Robin. Less than a year before the next election and a signature promise would be exposed as a lie.

What was he to do?

Politically, there was only one option: fully fund the scheme! So at the next Cabinet meeting the mayor will finally agree to do what he promised and pay for all primary school meals. This will add an extra £2.5m to the cost this year and £3.6m next year. 

Of course, the cabinet paper dresses this up as a concern for Newham children:

Given the importance of ensuring a universal offer, no other option than funding junior paid meals at 100% will secure the desired outcomes for Newham’s primary age children.

But in truth, this is about ensuring the re-election of Sir Robin for a fifth term.

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4 Responses to “No such thing as a free lunch”

  1. Birdman July 14, 2017 at 15:36 #

    Whilst you might be right in thinking this is more politics than caring, I don’t think it is solely about getting SRW elected again. With the amount of free propaganda he gives himself, paid for by Council tax, and the full time well paid team of toadies in his cabinet, is there any doubt he will get re-elected? Indeed, I think I am right in saying that the Labour Party in Newham still pays for its full time officer and some of its campaigning by a compulsory 5% precept on allowances. SRW doesn’t need to make this decision on free school meals to get elected again and it might just be that those around him think there is a moral case for which money must be found. The trouble is that his stewardship of Newham and its finances has turned us all into cynics but it would be wrong to condemn every decision especially when it is one such as this that genuinely benefits the children of Newham.

    • Martin Warne July 14, 2017 at 15:46 #

      Do you think if the 19 schools hadn’t threatened to walk away from the scheme the council would have found the cash to fully fund it anyway? Sir Robin had the option of continuing with his offer of 60% funding and let them drop out if they wanted to. But that would have publicly exposed his duplicity. This is solely about avoiding embarrassment close to the election.

      • Birdman July 14, 2017 at 17:01 #

        I think the point I was making is that he will get re-elected whatever he does. Breaking a promise might reduce his majority but there is simply no opposition.

  2. terry ball July 23, 2017 at 10:53 #

    I agree no opposition just a bunch of would be mp mayor and prime ministers ,looking at the way newham has become a broken and split borough i think a referendum might occur to get rid of the elected mayor and go back to leader . It was better back in the day accountability was a shared thing amongst the chairs of committees .

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