City council bosses have quietly dropped plans to offer free meals to every primary school child in Birmingham - claiming it is unaffordable.

Former Labour council leader John Clancy made universal free school meals a flagship policy when he was elected at the end of 2015 and tried to set up a trust to raise sponsorship from major companies and employers for the scheme.

It was heralded as a move which would improve the health of children by tackling obesity, raise school attainment levels and reduce the impacts of child poverty.

The free meals were also a recommendation of the independent Birmingham Child Poverty Commission in 2016.

The Government currently funds free school meals for infant school children, but the council wanted to increase that to all children up to age 11.

School meals

Cllr Clancy set up a trust and approached major businesses and employers, such as supermarkets, to see if they would sponsor the policy.

But two years on, with Clancy last year replaced as leader, the School Food Trust has been abandoned.

Yet Labour council bosses say free schools meals remains an ‘aspiration’ and that they continue to lobby Government to fund them.

Opposition Conservative education spokesman Matt Bennett (Edgbaston) said: “Yet another Labour promise has been broken. The financial situation was challenging when the promise was made and remains so now. All that has changed is that we have had two further years of Labour mismanagement.”

An example of a dinner served to pupils in school: fish cakes, potatoes and beans
An example of a dinner served to pupils in school: fish cakes, potatoes and beans

He said the Labour leadership cannot blame Government cuts as they always insisted the money would come from the trust.

“I’m afraid the people of Birmingham have been let down once again by Labour,” Cllr Bennett added.

“Promises of free meals were nothing more than hot air. Birmingham deserves better.”

Council Labour equalities chief Tristan Chatfield said that although the scheme remains an ‘aspiration’ the council cannot afford it. He said it had proved ‘difficult’ to establish a trust and funding.

He added: “This ambition has not been dropped, but Government cuts to our budget of almost £650 million since 2010 mean that it is not currently possible to offer universal free school meals.

Former Council leader John Clancy - free school meals to 11 was a flagship policy

“For now we will focus on what is possible given the current financial constraints. Every effort is being made to maximise the take up of free school meals among those children who are currently eligible.

“In the longer term, I would urge the Government to ensure that all our children have access to free school meals. That would go some way towards tackling the rising levels of childhood poverty that saw 400,000 more UK children plunged into poverty last year. It would also have obvious health benefits for many children across the country.”

He stressed that the council is doing all it can to ensure that all children entitled to free meals, such as those from households on universal credit, are applying for and getting them.