Council leaders say there will be no u-turn over the end of free school meal vouchers over the Easter holidays - because they need to use £6.7m of government cash to help a broader range of people.

The Conservative-run council has provided free school meal vouchers for holidays since December 2020, but will not be doing so over the Easter break.

That led to political pressure for a rethink, with a petition set up by the opposition Labour group having been signed by more than 1,800.

Eastern Daily Press: Andrew Proctor has sent a scathing letter to the Planning Inspectorate over its decision to allow 170 homes to be built in Brundall. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYAndrew Proctor has sent a scathing letter to the Planning Inspectorate over its decision to allow 170 homes to be built in Brundall. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council, gave a statement at Monday's (April 4) meeting of the council's cabinet, where he explained why the voucher scheme would not be continuing.

He said the funding allocation for free school meals had ended and the £6.7m the council got through the government's hardship fund had to be spent more widely.

Mr Proctor said: "Following the chancellor’s recent announcement of the further funding I referred to, we are developing a new scheme with the £6.7m we have been allocated that will have the depth and flexibility to reach a much broader range of people facing hardship.

"At the end of last week, the government confirmed the detailed criteria. It shows that we must reach out to that wider element of society – regardless of any campaigns urging us to do something else.

"As leader of the council, I have a responsibility to help as many people as I can who are facing financial hardship.

"This will, of course, include support for children and families eligible for free school meals, but also children and families facing hardship but not in receipt of free school meals, families with younger children, pensioners, people with disabilities, unpaid carers and other vulnerable households in Norfolk."

Mr Proctor said schemes such as the Big Norfolk Holiday Fun Programme will provide support and healthy food for 4,000 five to 16-year-olds this Easter.

He said support was available through the Norfolk Assistance Scheme and said calls to it from families struggling over Easter would be prioritised, via 0344 800 8020.

Eastern Daily Press: Mike Smith-Clare, Labour county councillor.Mike Smith-Clare, Labour county councillor. (Image: Labour Party)

But Mike Smith-Clare, Labour's spokesman for children's services, said: "Hungry children need feeding today and tomorrow, not when some scheme has been cobbled together.

"There is nothing in the leader's statement that shows us they have grasped the extent of the urgent need."

And Liberal Democrat group leader Brian Watkins said: "Whilst extra money is welcome in the hardship fund, it is crisis management not any real solution to help those people affected.

"It is symptomatic of the council's hands off approach to those people who need help."

Fostering fees

Eastern Daily Press: Foster carers protested about Norfolk County Council's decision to change allowances.Foster carers protested about Norfolk County Council's decision to change allowances. (Image: Archant)

Council leaders also agreed controversial proposals to change foster carer allowances.

The cabinet had been asked by fellow councillors, across the political divide, to reconsider that decision.

The council claimed the revisions would make fee payments fairer and would also mean more children could be fostered, rather than being placed in residential care.

But foster carers said almost 55pc would see a reduction of more than 33pc in payments or what they expected to be paid - and also said the consultation was flawed.

The council had said it believes 81 foster households would see allowances reduced, but overall fees would be among the highest paid to carers across England and Wales.

The cabinet agreed to continue with the changes.

One concession was an agreement foster carer payments should not be adversely affected if a six-month assessment of a child showed a reduction in need within that review cycle.