School meals price cut among options for Walsall

Proposals to improve the take-up of school meals in Walsall include cutting prices, it emerged today. A working group set up to review the £1. 1million-a-year catering service has suggested a price cap of £1 or even offering them free for all.

Proposals to improve the take-up of school meals in Walsall include cutting prices, it emerged today. A working group set up to review the £1.1million-a-year catering service has suggested a price cap of £1 or even offering them free for all.

The cost of the ambitious move would be between £8m and £12m. An average meal costs £1.95. However, the cash-strapped local authority has already announced school meals could rise an extra 5p in the draft budget next year as part of its bid to save millions.

The working group is suggesting the change after it emerged more than half of pupils are shunning school dinners. Other options include better food, a more modern approach, continual training for cooks and better monitoring of spending.

A pricing shake-up is suggested in a report from the group. It states: “When comparing take-up of free school meals with similar local authorities Walsall has a lower take-up rate.

“The working group were interested to learn that the take-up of paid meals was so low. Anecdotal evidence suggested that cost, quality and choice were the principal issues.

“It is clear that the school catering service cannot continue in its current form. The uncertainty about its future must end and in order for it to survive investment is required.

“The working group recognise there is a cost to updating the school catering service but there is a clear wish from the schools for it to continue.”

The recommendations are due to go before the decision-making cabinet in the near future.

The council’s school catering service currently provides 66 schools with around 7,500 meals a day over 190 days.

Take-up of free meals across all schools was 82 per cent in the previous financial year, while it was just 28 per cent for paid for dishes. This resulted in an overall take-up of just 44 per cent.

In January, of the 10,849 primary and secondary pupils eligible for free meals, there were 1,984 who were not taking up the offer.