Emergency funds ‘never intended for free school meals’, says council leader

Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: NCC

Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: NCC - Credit: Norfolk County Council

The leader of Norfolk County Council has said government money to support vulnerable families during the pandemic was “never intended to be used for free school meals”.

Andrew Proctor, leader of the Conservative-run council, said the £1m the authority received from central government as emergency assistance funding had either been spent or earmarked to provide support over Christmas.

He said: “Concerns have been raised locally and nationally about how we can support our residents and communities as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

READ MORE: ‘It was heartbreaking’ - makeshift foodbank feeds dozens of families in need “Throughout it all, Norfolk County Council has been providing targeted support for vulnerable people and families, either directly or with our partners.

“This was before we received the £1.015 million allocated by the government as an emergency assistance grant for food and essential supplies.

“We have spent half of that and the rest is earmarked to provide support during Christmas and the remainder of this year.”

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And he added: “The money was never intended to be used for free school meals.

“The government provided separate funding for free school meal vouchers between March and mid-July.

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“If the government reintroduced that scheme and provided sufficient funding, we would, of course, support its delivery.”

READ MORE: ‘Heartless and cruel’ - Norfolk MPs free school meals extension vote criticised

It came as Mike Smith-Clare, Labour spokesman for children and young people, said: “It is glaringly obvious the utter contempt these privileged elected individuals hold our children and young people in.

“To condemn young lives to hunger and desperation is a crime against humanity and social decency.

“No amount of spin, pretence and handwringing can hide their true undeniable cruelty.”

Norfolk’s Conservative MPs who voted down extending provision of free school meals to pupils during the holidays were branded “heartless and cruel” by a Labour counterpart last week.

And businesses across Norfolk and Waveney are rallying to help provide free meals to children after MPs rejected England footballer Marcus Rashford’s bid to extend the provision during half-term, while volunteers spent the weekend preparing food parcels for children at risk of going hungry during the break.

READ MORE: ‘I have been genuinely enormously torn’ - MP’s 1,000 word letter reveals why he voted against free school meal extension

Steffan Aquarone, Liberal Democrat group leader, added: “The demand for support from households facing financial hardship as a result of Covid-19 has far outstripped the government funding available, so reading some of the comments from Norfolk MPs was painful.

“Is Councillor Proctor going to tell us if he is disappointed in how Norfolk’s Conservative MPs voted on this issue? Does he agree with what George Freeman has since said - that the government has got it wrong?

“We do not want any child in Norfolk to go hungry, so we will be asking the county council to follow the lead of others, such as Liberal Democratun Portsmouth City Council, in providing families of children with food vouchers to cover the Christmas period.”

READ MORE: Doctors and school heads: childhood hunger should transcend politics

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