Welsh Conservative Member of the Welsh Parliament, Janet Finch-Saunders has spoken out about her concern that the Welsh Government do not know the number of primary schools in Wales requiring upgrades to their kitchens.
The Member for Aberconwy asked Jeremy Miles MS, Minister for Education and Welsh Language: “Will the Minister state how many primary schools in Wales currently require upgrades to their kitchens in response to the universal free school meal policy?”
The Minister’s response includes: “Further work will take place during October to understand whether any additional kitchen upgrade works are required to deliver the next stages of universal primary free school meals. With this in mind, it is not currently possible to confirm the number of primary schools in Wales requiring upgrades to their kitchens”.
Commenting on the response from the Welsh Government, Janet said: “Setting aside the debate as to whether it is fair that tax payers’ money is being used to fund free school meals for children of the wealthiest in society, it is reasonable to expect that the costs of the policy have been fully established.
“Despite the rollout of the scheme having commenced, the Welsh Labour Government and their co-operation partners in Plaid Cymru have no idea how many schools in Wales require upgrades to their kitchens.
“Without the staff that are employed to work in our school kitchens in Aberconwy and across Wales, the delivery of the universal offer would not be possible. However, I find it completely unacceptable that the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru have not established how many of those invaluable teams require kitchen upgrades to undertake their work”.
Laura Anne Jones MS, Shadow Minister for Education, added: “I’m disappointed but not surprised by the Welsh Government, it was clear for several months that upgrades and altercations would be needed for a number of school kitchens across Wales so that they had the capacity to deliver from the get-go.
“To now find out that they aren’t even sure of which schools need upgrades is even more concerning, once again we’re seeing the Welsh Government’s words not matching the reality on the ground when it comes to policy announcements.
“The Minister now needs to urgently get a grip on the situation so we know which kitchens need upgrading, so that our schools and councils can get on with delivering.”
Welsh Labour Education Minister, Jeremy Miles MS said: “£260m has been committed to support delivery of universal free school meals to primary learners by 2024, this includes £25m initial capital funding allocated in 2021-22 and a further £35m capital announced and allocated recently in 2022-23. This capital funding has enabled local authorities to do the necessary upgrades to kitchens in their primary schools. We will continue to work with local authorities who require additional support to deliver the commitment.
“Since our commitment to deliver universal primary free school meals, my officials have supported local authorities to plan for and manage the roll-out. Throughout the summer officials have met with individual catering managers, benefit leads and representatives from local authorities to offer support and to gain assurance of their readiness for the roll-out in September.
“In recent meetings with local authorities my officials have been informed that most planned kitchen upgrade works in support of the first stage of delivery have been completed during the summer holiday period. However, and reflecting the phased nature of the rollout, further work will take place during October to understand whether any additional kitchen upgrade works are required to deliver the next stages of universal primary free school meals. With this in mind, it is not currently possible to confirm the number of primary schools in Wales requiring upgrades to their kitchens.
“I am pleased to note that delivery towards the universal primary free school meals commitment has made significant progress in a short space of time. Local authorities and schools have embraced this policy and the speed at which they and our public services have worked together to begin providing free school meals is remarkable.
“From the beginning of September all local authorities began delivering the free school meal offer to Reception pupils and eight local authorities also rolled out to years one and two. 45,000 pupils are already receiving the universal primary free school meal offer. The majority of the remainder of local authorities are expected to begin roll out to years one and two by April 2023 when 66,000 pupils will become eligible for primary free school meals in our first year of delivery.
“This work is being carried out as part of the Co-operation Agreement between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru. This is a hugely ambitious policy and is just the start of the roll-out. We will continue to work with local authorities on plans to extend the scheme further into the 2023-24 academic year to meet the commitment for all primary school pupils to receive a free school meal by 2024”.
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