Leeds free school meals bill is set to surge

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Leeds City council is bracing itself for a huge increase in demand for school meals when new legislation on free provision for younger pupils kicks in.

The authority’s overall annual bill for frozen and fresh food for its children’s and older people’s catered services – which come from the same providers – is set to shoot up beyond the £3million mark. The Government is set to roll out universal free school meals for early years schoolchildren in September.

Leeds council bosses estimate this will lead to a 20 per cent increase in the current uptake of school meals in the city’s primary schools.

The authority’s current frozen food contract is worth £1.8m per year, but could shoot up to £2m. Fresh fruit and vegetables currently cost the authority £750,000 annually, but the costs are likely to shoot past the £1m mark from September.

Both contracts are due for renewal this summer and a new tendering process has now been started in light of the national changes.

A report just approved by senior officers says: “The introduction of the Universal Free School Meal from September 2014 will lead to a significant uptake in school meals. This in turn will lead to an increase in...foods required to provide the meals.

“Current projections suggest meal numbers may increase by up to 20 per cent.

“A new contract will secure the frozen foods required at the best possible price.”

Additional funding is provided by the Government to help councils introduce the universal infant free school meals (UIFSM).

However it is also encouraging education authorities to be creative with their existing schools spending budgets.

A Department for Education guidance document issued this month says: “We encourage local authorities to consider how they might use their school maintenance and improvement budgets to support the delivery of UIFSM.”

Leeds City Council was allocated just over £2m in capital funding for UIFSM in December last year.

This will help schools prepare their kitchens and pay for other infrastructure to deal with the increased demand.

Additional funding of £2.30 per extra free meal taken up by qualifying pupils will also be provided.

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