It would cost Scottish Borders Council £35,000 a year to cut the price of a school meal by 60p for Primary 4-7 children, writes Andrew Keddie.
However, an attempt to do just that in order to stimulate demand and increase uptake was roundly rejected last week by the ruling administration at Newtown.
Councillor Michelle Ballantyne, leader of the Conservative opposition group, took exception to a proposed five per cent hike – from £2 to £2.10 – in the charge of a primary meal to be introduced in August for youngsters not exempt from payment. She claimed a similar increase last year meant that only 39 per cent of pupils in that age group were now taking school meals, which are currently free for all P1-3 children under a Scottish Government-subsidised initiative worth £1.3million a year.
Mrs Ballantyne proposed the price for older primary pupils should be reduced to £1.50 to address the low uptake. Speaking at Thursday’s full council meeting when a revenue budget of £254million for 2015/16 was presented for approval, she said: “This has the full support of this council’s catering department.
“These meals offer choice and nutrition and significantly contribute to the Better Eating, Better Learning campaign. Cutting the price to £1.50 would cost parents less than the average packed lunch and would, according to our catering staff, increase uptake to at least 45 per cent.
“It stands to reason that if we keep putting up the price year on year, then fewer children will be able to access a healthy, nutritious lunch. We must make it affordable and be mindful that an increased uptake will reduce the cost of delivery through economies of scale.”
But her motion to amend the budget accordingly was defeated 21-9 after Councillor Sandy Aitchison (Borders Party), executive member for education, disputed Mrs Ballantyne’s figures.