Shock hike in school meal costs

WIGAN’s school dinner charges are to rise.

High school meals are set to go up by 2.5 per cent (£1.95 to £2) while primary and special school parents across the borough are to face 5.4 per cent increase from the start of the September term.

The recommendations were approved at a special emergency budget meeting of the ruling cabinet which approved cuts of more than £47m.

But they must still face ratification by the full council meeting on March 2.

Cabinet member for children and young people’s services Coun Susan Loudon said today that the Government’s funding cuts to the council were to blame.

And even with the proposed rises, they still compare favourably with prices across Greater Manchester.

But leader of the opposition Coun Gary Wilkes insisted: “ Sadly this was expected as the council are trying to claw back the huge pay out we have seen recently to MetroFresh employees who have demanded equal pay.”

The Cabinet heard that the council’s catering arm, MetroFresh, is currently operating in a difficult financial environment because of a combination of rising staffing costs caused by the recent job evaluation process and inflation in the price of food.

This has created a financial situation where, without further action, the catering operation would need a subsidy of around £225,000 for the next financial year which the council can’t afford.

Management is now driving though an efficiency programme based on increasing productivity and reviewing the services to schools.

Although high school meals are to rise by 2.5 per cent, raising an extra £40,000 from paying pupils and staff, this will still be considerably less than the 4.5 per cent increase in food prices over the last 12 months.

Primary and special school meals - which haven’t risen since 2008, will go up 10p from £1.85 to £1.95, bringing in an extra £90,000.

The cost of free school meals is funded from individual school budgets and it is proposed that these will rise by the same level, raising a further £95,000 of additional income.

Cabinet member for education Coun Loudon said: “In the past the council has subsidised the school meals service by £92,000 but with cuts of between 25 per cent and 27 per cent cuts to our budgets we can no longer continue to maintain that level of support.”