15pc rise in cost of school dinners in Rotherham

FEARS over children going without a daily hot meal were raised after a 15 per cent increase in school meal prices was revealed.

Rotherham Council is hiking the cost of catering for pupils from April, saying food and staff costs have “risen significantly” over the past 18 months.

Cllr Wendy Cooksey, Labour, said in a scrutiny meeting last week: “I understand the reasons but my concern as always is people who are just slightly above the threshold for free school meals, that might be in a very precarious financial situation at the moment.

“In terms of long-term thinking, children having a nutritious meal at least once a day will benefit their health over a lifetime.

“That’s a concern to me if they start bringing packed lunches – you can see a wide variety of food brought in, which doesn’t necessarily contain the vitamins and minerals that are needed to stay healthy.”

RMBC leader Cllr Chris Read said there had been a 20 per cent jump in food costs to the council.

“I understand the concern,” he added. “Schools have got some degree of discretion around the support that they offer.

“The means test on free school meals requires a very low income for people to be eligible.

“We have been able to keep these price rises down for previous years but we have just kind of run out of road for that.”

It was likely that the people just above the threshold for free school meals would be the same as are benefiting from other measures like additional council tax support, Cllr Read said.

He added: “I take the point that there are families who are dependent on a number of schemes, and each time one of those falls away, that impacts on them directly.

“We are absolutely trying to do the best with the resources that we have got, but it is a real challenge.”

The budget – billed as “family-friendly” by RMBC – was approved by cabinet members on Monday (12). It goes before full council on February 28.

The proposed council tax increase of 3.5 per cent is expected to be the lowest rise in Yorkshire for an authority with adult social care responsibilities.