Town hall urged not to make cuts to Newham free school meals scheme

More pupils in Newham are relying on free lunches than this time last year. Picture: Chris Radburn/P

The chairman of East Ham Labour (CLP) has urged Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz not to make cuts to Newham's free school meals scheme. - Credit: PA

The town hall has been urged not to make cuts to its free school meals scheme by a local Labour Party chairman.

Tahir Mirza, who chairs East Ham Labour Party (CLP), said that "surely a Labour administration would rather die in a ditch than support a policy that harms children", in an open letter.

A spokesperson for Newham Council said it is considering whether to alter its Eat for Free scheme with the aim of saving £1.9million.

This is against a backdrop of losing about £250m from its budget in cuts, increasing demand for council services and the impact of Covid-19.

"The scale of funding cuts we face leaves us forced to make very difficult decisions in order to deliver a balanced budget and ensure we are able to continue to support even more families during this difficult time," the spokesperson added.

Tahir Mirza during his recent hunger strike. Picture: submitted

Mr Mirza states in the open letter to Ms Fiaz: "[S]urely a Labour administration would rather die in a ditch than support a policy that harms children". - Credit: Archant

Mr Mirza, asked why he sent the letter, said: "I love the Labour Party. I don't want to undermine it, but want to uphold the values of our party."

In the letter, which was sent on Tuesday, December 22, Mr Mirza writes that recovering from the economic damage caused by Covid-19 will not be short term.

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He adds that Covid-19 debt is not due to be repaid on May 5, 2022, which is when local elections are due to be held.

Mr Mirza told the Recorder that as East Ham Labour chairman he is inundated with messages from grassroots supporters concerned about what Newham Council is doing.

He warned the party could suffer in the local elections as a result of the issue as well as parking permit charges and a possible hike in council tax.

Mr Mirza suggests in the letter any extra costs can be stalled and repayments rolled into a long term debt.

Newham's spokesperson said: "It is not legally possible for local government to borrow money to pay for yearly expenditures. Therefore we would not be able to fund an Eat for Free scheme with a loan."

Currently, all primary pupils in Newham receive free school meals from Reception to Year 6.

Nationally, all pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 receive free school meals which is a legal requirement funded by government.

The council is not required by law to provide free meals to pupils in Years 3 to 6. It costs the council about £6m a year.

Newham's analysis suggests one third of Years 3 to 6 pupils come from households that could pay towards it.

The scheme was introduced under the administration of Sir Robin Wales more than 12 years ago.