Free school milk proposed for all primary pupils

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Primary school pupils in Argyll and Bute could get free milk from the start of next term.

A report before councillors has recommended that the current 10p fee for a 189ml (one third of a pint) portion of milk in primary schools should be abolished from August 2021.

This would cost the authority £21,000, but with the roll-out of free school meals in primary schools from August, officials believe that charging for milk will no longer deliver significant income.

A decision on the charge was expected to be taken by the full council at its virtual meeting on Thursday June 24.

In the report, executive director Douglas Hendry said: ‘At the council’s budget setting meeting in 2015, the catering and cleaning service proposed the introduction of a 10p charge per portion of milk to all pupils who paid for a school meal but who also wished to have milk with it.

‘The purpose of this charge was to offset the higher than average purchase costs that the council paid for milk provision, with the expectation that it could generate in the region of £30,000 per annum.

‘In 2017 the council took a further decision to extend this 10p charge to all pupils in primary schools, whether those pupils were in receipt of a free or paid meal.

‘This measure was mitigated by the inclusion of milk-based desserts to ensure that pupils were able to receive their required calcium intake from school meals.

‘This extension was expected to generate an additional £10,000 per annum.

‘In real terms, due to a decline in uptake of milk arising from the charge, the additional income generated for milk in 2019/20 was £21,700.

‘During the course of 2021, a number of significant policy changes have been introduced by the Scottish Government which will impact on how school meals are provided in future years.’

The changes referred to by Mr Hendry include the implementation of healthy eating in schools regulations, which were introduced in April, reducing the amount of sugar and red processed meat that pupils can consume.

They also include the roll-out of free school meals in later primary years, which will begin in August and continue until fully implemented across all primary ages a year later.

Mr Hendry added: ‘With approval, officers propose removing the 10p charge for the provision of milk for pupils in primary schools.

‘Enabling milk to be provided free of charge will help to provide some of the nutritional benefits to children and young people that can no longer be provided through desserts.

‘This change would also mean that both education staff and catering staff would no longer be required to count, cash, bank and record 10p payments from parents, which can be a time-consuming process.

‘Parents would be able to ensure that their children can access milk free, without having to find 10p to pay for its provision, improving equity for all regardless of financial situation.

‘This proposal could increase uptake of milk, which could have a positive impact on local milk contractors who supply the catering and cleaning services, and would also benefit farming communities should milk volumes increase.

‘This would result in lost income to the council, in the region of £21,700 per annum, but would be outweighed by the benefits.’