YOUNG primary school pupils in Shetland will be able to benefit from free school meals from 2010 onwards.
Following a pilot project, the SNP administration at Holyrood has announced that it will compel councils to provide free lunches for all pupils in primaries one to three and that the new policy must be implemented within two years.
Labour MSPs are claiming that almost half of Scotland’s 32 local authorities have expressed concerns about how they will finance the scheme, which the SNP says will be paid for within the £34.9bn funding settlement it recently agreed with Cosla.
But SIC chief executive Morgan Goodlad said that although he was still waiting to learn the precise financial implications of the move, he did not envisage the council having any great problems absorbing the added costs.
“I think we’ll probably be reasonably happy with it,” he said. “We have a high take-up, and a fairly favourable three-year settlement. In principle [it is] in line with what we tend to favour ourselves. It’ll be down to affordability, but it doesn’t sound like it’ll be a huge amount of money so at this stage I don’t see any great alarm with it.”
SIC education service officer Audrey Edwards said the overall percentage of pupils in Shetland who are entitled to free meals at present was fairly small, at between four to six per cent, but most of the children do take school meals and so the extra costs will mainly be in the form of losing revenue from charging pupils for the meals.
The SNP’s move to make free meals universally available for the first three years of primary education has been criticised by other political parties as the “economics of the madhouse”, though others argue it prevents the stigmatisation of poorer children and will also help the health of better off pupils, because poor diet isn’t the exclusive territory of the working classes.