Calls for Peterborough City Council to extend free school meals support over holidays

The leaders of all opposition parties on Peterborough City Council have written a joint letter calling on the authority to extend free school meals support during holidays.

Free school meals. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Free school meals. (Photo: Shutterstock)

The leaders of all three opposition parties on Peterborough City Council have united to call on the Council and Peterborough’s MPs to extend the provision of free school meals during the holidays.

This comes after both MPs were among those who voted against a Labour motion to offer free school meals during the holidays.

The leaders of the Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green Party groups on Peterborough City Council have written to the city council’s chief executive Gillian Beasley, asking her to extend free school meal support.

They have also written to the two Peterborough MPs - Paul Bristow and Shailesh Vara - asking them to reconsider their voting intentions should a further opportunity to vote on the issue arise, and to support the Free School Meal Campaign that was started by Manchester United Football Player, Marcus Rashford.

The opposition group leaders say 51 councils in England are offering support for the most disadvantaged pupils over the holidays, including Conservative-run Kensington and Chelsea, which promises to provide 3,300 youngsters with £15 in per pupil in gift vouchers to cover the costs of meals during the holidays, the equivalent of the £3-per-day lunchtime meal they would normally receive in school.

Councillor Shaz Nawaz , Labour Party Group Leader, said: “The pandemic has been a very testing time for everyone.

“It has been most difficult for those living from pay cheque to pay cheque.

“Our city will be judged on how we helped the most vulnerable.

“It’s amazing how our wonderful and diverse city has come together since the start of the pandemic. I am proud of all the support the Labour Group has offered from feeding rough sleepers, to weekly contributions to the foodbank, and most recently our pledge to feed children during half-term.

“I do believe, however, that our MP and Conservative administration need to do more for the children of this city. I trust they will listen to the request from opposition group leaders. We want to work cross-party so that no child ever goes hungry in our city.”

Councillor Nick Sandford, Liberal Democrat Group Leader, said: “With the Covid-19 crisis causing such a lot of stress and worry for many local families, the last thing they need is uncertainty about whether they can feed their children.

“The Government funded free school meals when schools were closed during the Summer, so they should do so again.

“If they won’t, then the Council should look to step in and fund this vital service, possibly off-setting the cost through sponsorship from local companies.”

Councillor Julie Howell, Green Party Group Leader, said: “At a meeting of full council earlier this year, a motion tabled by Cllr Day to create a food strategy received cross-party support and was passed unanimously.

“How dreadfully sad that just a few weeks later, the city’s two MPs have chosen to toe the party line and deny children the sustenance so many of them depend upon.

“Children need our protection. School meals are just one of the vital ways that a caring society can provide that protection, as many families struggle to put nutritious food on the table while the pandemic rages on.”

Following last week’s Commons vote Peterborough MP Paul Bristow revealed he and his staff had received threats and abuse and North West Cambridgeshire MP Shailesh Vara defended the government’s record.

Last week Paul Bristow said: “On Wednesday, there was a vote on a Labour Party motion about extending free school meals. We are already going further than ever before, which the motion ignored.

“It was just a motion and wouldn’t have changed anything. There is a policy and spending framework for these decisions, which the motion didn’t alter.

“Not a single extra child or family would have been supported if this vote was passed. Labour know this.

“They use their “Opposition Day” motions as a party-political weapon. It’s just a tactic for targeting abuse at Conservative MPs.

“The reality is that:

- Free school meals are provided to 1.4 million children from low income families.

- £9 billion extra has been put into the welfare system to help during COVID-19.

- Just yesterday Councils have been given an extra £1 billion to help and I helped to secure £5.7 million for Peterborough.

“But Labour’s rhetoric means facts get lost. Over the last few days, their keyboard warriors have sent me and my staff horrible abuse.

“This included comments about my children and threats to turn up at my home.

“Emotions can run high, but please don’t be fooled by Labour’s political games. And don’t be like these charming people...”

North West Cambs MP Shailesh Vara said: “I was not in the Commons so was unable to vote.

“However, had I been there I would have voted with the government.

“It’s important to appreciate all the facts as they really are.

“This government is supporting pupils in need. As well as free school meals for 1.4 million children from low income families there is also £9 billion extra that has been put into the welfare system and £63 million has been provided for Councils to support families in need.”