Islington Tribune
Publications by New Journal Enterprises
  Home Archive Competition Jobs Tickets Accommodation Dating Contact us
Islington Tribune - BY ROISIN GADELRAB
Published: 27 November 2009

Lib Dems aim to ditch policy after a year if they triumph at polls

AN EYE-CATCHING council policy offering free school meals to every primary school pupil is expected to be ditched after just a year, under a secret plan being devised by the Liberal Democrats.
The future of the scheme will hinge on the party’s fortunes in May’s council elections but the Tribune has learned that if the Lib Dems retain control of the Town Hall they plan to move quickly to bin the policy.
Party sources said there was discontent at the idea of providing universal free meals to pupils regardless of their family’s financial circumstances.
The meals will be served up for the first time borough-wide in March, but already the scheme – a key battleground between Labour and the Lib Dems – is mired in confusion. As it operates outside the normal school system and is run by private sponsors, St Mary Magdalene Academy in Holloway will not be entitled to a place on the scheme.
The school’s principal, Rob Hollingum, said: “I imagine our parents would want to challenge the decision if we’re not included.”
The issue was described as “an anomaly” by Lib Dem finance chief Councillor John Gilbert yesterday (Thursday).
But sources close to the treasurer said he is not convinced that the scheme will have a long life in Islington. It was the brainchild of Labour councillors who hijacked the council’s budget earlier this year by capitalising on the fine balance of power at the Town Hall.
It is now understood that if the Lib Dems can make stronger gains in the council elections to be held next May, it will almost certainly be ditched by the party.
They even make the pledge in election literature. “We are working out our own proposals which will mean free school meals for those who really need them,” said a well-placed source. “When we win the election in May we will be withdrawing universal free school meals.”
Labour’s shadow education spokesman Councillor Richard Watts said: “Why do we continue to be so negative about this scheme when it’s proven to be enormously successful? The fact that kids who were previously eligible but were not taking it up and are now shown to be taking it up shows everything about the stigma being removed is being borne out.”
Lib Dem schools chief Councillor Paula Belford said: “I don’t think we’re not enthusiastic about it but we have to be careful and stick to the budget constraints and we have to make sure it’s a workable scheme.”
Only six schools have piloted the scheme, but a report considered at a council meeting last Thursday recommended extending the free meals to all council-run primary schools, at a cost £3.175million next year.
Registration of more than 11,000 children borough-wide has already begun and is expected to be completed by the end of next month.
Cllr Gilbert said there were “deserving” pupils at St Mary Magdalene and the issue of the academy not being included in the policy was being investigated.
Alasdair Smith, secretary of the Anti-Academies Alliance, said: “They are playing politics with our children’s school meals. It proves that all schools should be local community schools. Once you start creating different types of schools it allows for variations in entitlements.
“These different sorts of schools lead to social inequality. Parents at Mary Magdalene should be saying to the governors we don’t want to be an academy, we want to be a state school.”

Comment on this article.
(You must supply your full name and email address for your comment to be published)







Theatre Music
Arts & Events Attractions