I have made it no secret that the implementation (thought support the concept) of the Universal Infant Free School Meal (UIFSM) has been a shambles.This is not due to the hard work of Cornwall Council, Cormac and schools who in a tight widow manage to upgrade 112 school kitchens, but how this whole programme has been funded by the Government/DfE
The cost of the work to upgrade 112 kitchens – out of 236 primary schools – totalled £1.4m but, and this is a big but, the DfE only funded £846,000 of this amount. This resulted in Cornwall Council have to go cap-in-hand to the Schools Forum who luckily and thankfully agreed to fund the £555,000 shortfall. This was not free money, as if the UIFSM was funded properly, then this money could have been spent elsewhere on Education. However, even this additional funded from the Schools Forum was still not enough to do some of the schools that had functioning kitchens, but really needed to be upgraded. So sadly, these kitchens were not upgraded.
Late last year, there was a glimmer of hope on UIFSM funding with the Government announcing a further pot of funding for kitchens. This would enable those schools that narrowly missed out to have the kitchen upgrades they needed. Cornwall Council put in a strong bid for six schools totalling £360,000. I was really hopeful the Government would support our request, but today, the news was not good. Out of the six bids, five have been turned down. I learnt initially not from an email or letter from the DfE, but from their website.
On a positive, I am pleased Stithians Primary School has had its bid approved, but it is very bad news for the five bids that did not. The maintained primary schools which have been let down are: Menheniot, Pencoys, Pensans, St Agnes and St Francis CE Primary Schools. Without this funding, there is no clear way on how we are going to be able to cover this. In fact, there is a real danger these schools will not get the upgrades they need unless we find the funding from elsewhere. This will result in other areas of the Council’s school budget having to be reduced to pay for this – even if this funding can be found!
I am really annoyed and incredibly disappointed by this Government decision: or should I say shortsightedness. This is a Government policy which has been dropped on Local Authorities to deal with. The implementation of this policy has been made more difficult because the policy has not been thought out and not funded properly. Local Authorities up and down the land are having to deal with reduced budgets and increased demand on services, but thinks it is ok to add to our budgetary woes with dumping other problems.
I wonder if a Government Minister would like to explain to the parents, pupils and teaching staff at those five schools on the Governments failure to properly fund their idea. This is the second time the Council and the people of Cornwall have been let down by the lack of Government funding for Univerisal Infant Free School Meals………once was bad enough, but this, well…. is beyond a joke.