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SCHOOL MEALS: Prices in Merthyr Tydfil won’t increase this year

SCHOOL MEALS: Prices in Merthyr Tydfil won’t increase this year

Image: LDRS

School meal prices in Merthyr Tydfil won’t be increased this year because of the impact of the pandemic.

The council’s cabinet approved not increasing the prices for 2021/2022 which means prices will be frozen for a second year in a row.

The price was most recently increased in April 2019, by 20p, to £2.30 in primary schools and £2.70 in secondary schools.

Cabinet members heard that no rise was considered last year due to the pandemic and the anticipated interruption to the service delivery.

No school meals were provided during the summer term 2020, with a reduced menu offered when reintroduced in the autumn term.

The cabinet report said that reduced trading days and reduced meal sales because of Covid has had a significant impact on the service budget during 2020/21 and the combination of staff being furloughed during summer term 2020 and spring term 2021 as well as an income loss claim to Welsh Government via the hardship grant has been necessary to balance the budget.

The number of pupils eligible for free school meals has also increased significantly over the pandemic period with an increase of 24.9% in February 2021 compared to January 2020.

The increase in the number of pupils eligible for free school meals has resulted in the service level agreement income from schools being increased by £230k to £1.5 million when setting the budget for next financial year 2021/22.

This budgeted increase offsets the loss of income expected from reduced cash sales due to fewer pupils being required to pay for their meals, according to the report.

But it added if the number of pupils eligible for free school meals continues to increase during the year then this may have a further negative impact on the income recovered via meal sales and presents a risk to the school meals budget.

The report said: “An increase in school meal prices at the current time is expected to result in a further reduction to meal sales and would have an adverse impact on income recovery, particularly when meal numbers have fallen significantly during the pandemic when trading has been able to take place.

“A period of trading stability is required to provide opportunity for school meal sales to recover to pre-pandemic levels and to assess any ongoing impacts to demand for school meals, both free school meals and paying meals, in the aftermath of the pandemic.”

Sue Walker, the council’s chief education officer, said: “Whilst schools hopefully settle down to some more normal services, and while we need to monitor the impact of any supplier price changes – either due to Brexit or the impact of the pandemic – it would not be the right time to consider a price increase.

“It was proposed – and agreed by members – that during this period of uncertainty the cost of school meals remain at current prices, with a further review as part of budget setting for the financial year 2022/23.”

Words: Anthony Lewis, Local Democracy Reporter


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