UK & World News

  • 4 December 2013, 22:20

Clegg's Kitchens: Extra Cash For School Meals

Nick Clegg's policy to make free school meals available to all infant school children will be given 150m of additional funding to pay for school kitchens to be upgraded.

The decision - which will be announced in tomorrow's Autumn Statement - places the Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister on a collision course with the Conservative education secretary Michael Gove.

Sources at the Department for Education said there was "no spare money" to fund the Lib Dem leader's pledge, made at the Lib Dem party conference in September. They warned it would take money from other school improvements.

The money for kitchens comes on top of a 1bn running cost for the roll-out over the next two years.

Whitehall departments will also face further cuts as the Government attempts to save a further 3bn over the next three years, it has emerged.

Mr Clegg has been pushing hard for the school meals policy in so-called Quad negotiations that take place with David Cameron, George Osborne, and the Lib Dem chief secretary, Danny Alexander.

When Mr Clegg revealed the policy at the party's conference he said it would cost 635m a year and while the party said there would also be capital costs it did not reveal the scale of them.

He said today: "Every child deserves the best possible start in life, and at the same time we are doing all we can to help ease the pressure on household budgets.

"This not only encourages positive eating habits and helps improve concentration and performance in the classroom, but this will also mean significant savings for families."

The Lib Dems have been attacked for providing free school meals for wealthy children in times of austerity. But a source said the evidence clearly showed that making free school meals universal boosted attainment as well as improving nutrition.

Moreover, four out of ten children in poverty miss out on the free meals under the current system.

Mr Clegg said it would also help ensure that children from all backgrounds sat down together each day, and had more energy throughout the afternoon.

Responding to the announcement, Labour's Shadow Education Minister Lucy Powell, said: "David Cameron and Nick Clegg scrapped Labour's plans to extend free meals for school children on taking office.

"Now they talk about helping with school meals, but in reality this Tory-led Government will have taken up to 7bn a year of support away from children by 2015.

"Families facing a cost-of-living crisis deserve better than this. Labour would extend free childcare provision for three and four-year-olds with working parents from 15 to 25 hours a week, and give parents a guarantee of wrap-around care for all primary school children."

Ahead of the Autumn Statement, it has also emerged that unprotected Whitehall budgets will face an extra 1.1% reduction in day-to-day spending for 2014/15 and 2015/16 under Mr Osborne's plans.

The Chancellor and Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander have written to their Cabinet colleagues informing them that central departmental spending is being cut by more than 1bn a year between now and 2015/16.

The Treasury said that "strong financial management" by departments this year meant there were likely to be significant underspends in their budgets, allowing the Treasury to release 1bn of its annual 3bn reserve.

But in order to "lock in" this lower level of spending, the 1.1% reductions will be made across departmental resource budgets over the next two years.

The budgets for health, schools, aid, local government, HMRC and the security services will be spared the further cuts.

The Government expects the exemption of the local government budget will help local authorities freeze council tax in 2014/15 and 2015/16.

The Ministry of Defence will be given "exceptional flexibility" to keep its expected underspends of 800m and roll them over to next year.

:: Watch live coverage of the Autumn Statement throughout Thursday on Sky News HD