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Concerns over school food parcels

Saturday, January 16th, 2021 7:10am

By Daniel Clark, local democracy reporter

Devon councillors worried

Any families in Devon getting 'unacceptable' free school meals are being urged to contact councillors with evidence.

Devon County Council’s cabinet has heard at least one school in Devon at which food parcels were well short of expected standards. They slammed the government’s ‘Victorian-era’ solution of giving food parcels rather than the vouchers provided during the holidays.

Earlier this week, social media was flooded with images of ‘woefully inadequate’ packages that replaced free school lunches children would usually receive.

Cllr Alan Connett (Lib Dem, Exminster and Haldon) said: “Some of the food boxes are brilliant, but others were ridiculous and I can understand why parents were upset, so there is some variance in Devon.”

Cllr Rob Hannaford added: “As we have now found out there are problems in Devon, so I would urge any local families that are receiving inadequate and unacceptable food parcel to please contact their local county councillors directly with the evidence to make sure that we are all aware where the problems are occurring to help action improvements.”

Cllr Roger Croad, cabinet member for community, said that totally agreed with the concerns over the food parcels and that he was much more in favour of the voucher scheme. He said: “We should make some strong representation to the efficacy of food parcels in this day at age. It smacks of a Victorian era and should be overcome and that is down to the government led one size fits all solution. The vouchers over Christmas went down well and the government needs to be aware of the dissatisfaction.”

More than 15,000 children in Devon received food vouchers this Christmas as part of a £1 million programme to combat holiday hunger. But while Devon County Council were responsible for issuing the vouchers over the holiday period, during term time, government funding goes directly to schools.

Dawn Stabb, head of education, added: “Schools are told to use food parcels if they can. The majority of pictures seen were national but we have been made aware of one school in Devon where the food parcel was not acceptable and we will follow that up with the school.

“The council doesn’t commission any provision during term time for food parcels and it is all done through the school, but we have made the voucher system available for schools to buy into if they wish. Some schools are doing vouchers, some blended, and some food parcels, but I don’t have the figures at this time.”

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson subsequently told parliament's education select committee that he was “absolutely disgusted” by the photos of the food parcel’s contents, and that his department had made it clear “this sort of behaviour is just not right [and] will not be tolerated”.

He said the government would “support any school that needs to take action” and “name and shame those that are not delivering against the standards” set by the Department for Education and that schools will be able to offer vouchers rather than food parcels from next week.

At prime minister's questions in the House of Commons that day, Labour leader Kier Starmer showed the list of items in the food parcels recommended by Mr Williamson's department was almost identical to the contents of the parcels being criticised by the government

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