Update: Free School Meals Trust
One of the key things I talked about as I campaigned to become leader of Birmingham’s Labour group and subsequently leader of the City Council was the issue of free school meals. So, as I enter my seventh week in the job, I think it’s only fair that I offer an update.
Having been a teacher for 25 of the last 30 years it will come as no real surprise that I want to focus on the welfare of our children. Naturally safeguarding children across the city is the number one priority for this council, but we must also look at the health of our children, the education of our children and the mental health of our children.
And that’s where I feel free school meals can play a part, which is why this is an issue I have campaigned on for a number of years.
It’s important to point out that this is not just about helping families who can’t afford to feed their children. Yes, that is clearly an issue for some families but free school meals can also impact on educational performance, while there are obvious impacts in terms of individual health.
Now we’ve just concluded a very difficult budget consultation where I’ve stressed time and time again that Birmingham City Council doesn’t have the money it once had. Times are hard and our finances are not going to be transformed overnight. So clearly it would be difficult to start a free school meals programme from council funding at the moment.
That’s why I’m looking at the process of setting up a Free School Meals Trust in Birmingham, initially across a given number of primary schools but with an aim long-term to extend free school meals across the city.
I’m not alone in seeing the value of free school meals. The Children’s Society has a strong commitment to this issue and is already working with the Child Poverty Commission in Birmingham. So I met with Children’s Society chief executive Matthew Reed yesterday to ask if he can also look – on our behalf – into how we go forward on free school meals in the city.
To get anywhere on this in the current financial climate, we have to look to big partners, big sporting organisationss, football clubs, cricket clubs, big ticket retailers (Asda, Primark and so on). Our challenge is to get into the corporate social responsibility environment with some early initial big investments into a Free School Meals Trust
Further down the line we would also speak to the Government about seeing if a free school meals Birmingham can be a beacon for the rest of the country.
This is not something that’s going to happen overnight. We have to make a start and I must stress that whatever we develop in Birmingham will be incremental.
That’s where I am at the moment and I would urge the other parties to get involved in this. In the past I think it’s something that all parties in Birmingham have supported and I look forward to some cross-party working to develop this trust.
I will provide further updates as we (hopefully) progress but I felt it was important to shed some light on the work to date.