CLWYD SOUTH AM KEN SKATES has called for a wholesale review of school dinners in Wales.
The AM said the rising price of food and parents concern about nutritional standards was making the traditional school dinner more difficult for local authorities to afford.
Just this month Wrexham Council said it was facing a school catering overspend of approximately £100,000, on top of income from pupils paying for school meals being reduced by £170,000.
Raising the issue in First Minister’s questions on Tuesday, the AM said the Welsh Government needed a major initiative to boost the uptake of school dinners and take steps to tackle the huge financial pressures being faced by local authorities.
The AM invited the First Minister to join him for a school dinner the next time he is in North Wales to discuss with pupils, teachers and suppliers how to make school food more nutritious and more affordable.
Labour AM Ken Skates said:
“At the moment we are seeing some very big economic forces negatively impacting on the provision and sustainability of school food right across Wales.
“The numbers of children who are not consuming school dinners because of the economic slowdown has increased over the last few years and parents have also been put off by the negative focus in recent times on the nutritional value of the traditional school dinner.
“These pressures, together with the rising price of food, up 32% over the past five years, is putting a huge strain on school catering budgets.
“In Wrexham we are seeing these forces impact on the choices the local authority is having to make in regard to school meals. This isn’t a problem confined to Wrexham and so I want to see the Welsh Government take a lead on reviewing school dinners across the board so we can address these big challenges.
“We need to look not only at the nutritious content of the meals being provided, but also at the long term financial sustainability of the school food model. Increased financial pressures must not lead to cheaper ingredients being used or more unhealthy meals being served.
“We need to look at how and where local authorities purchase food and make the overall food supply chain more sustainable.
“Farmers in North Wales produce some of the best produce in the world and I think parents will be reassured if they could see a stronger link between what is grown and reared locally and what is served on their children’s plate. The recent horsemeat scandal has only served to sharpen people’s concerns.
“Whilst we need to keep costs affordable, we need to work with local farmers and producers to restore confidence in the traditional school dinner.”