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£4.3 million funding shortfall could mean some Kent primary schools are unable to provide free meals

By Ed McConnell

Kent County Council is facing a £4.3 million shortfall in government funding for the extension of free school meals from September.

A Freedom of Information request from the Labour party revealed the shocking statistic just months before the coalition's flagship policy to provide free school meals to all infant school children is set to begin.

The news comes as some primary schools warn they could struggle to offer free meals because their kitchens are not big enough to accommodate the increased demand.

Some schools could struggle due to the size of their kitchens

Jim Holditch, the head teacher of Godinton Primary School, Godinton Park, Ashford, said: “Under the new proposals, we might have to cook up to 240 meals each day. I seriously doubt whether the kitchen facility can cope with this number.”

County education chiefs are surveying primary schools to assess how many will need work done to their kitchens by the start of the school year.

“It really is a case of giving with one hand and taking away with the other, the money has to come from somewhere and that means other services will suffer." - Labour’s parliamentary candidate in Dover & Deal, Clair Hawkins

KCC has been allocated £2.7m to implement the coalition’s scheme – including extending existing or building new kitchens.

Speaking yesterday Conservative councillor in charge of education at KCC, Roger Gough, said: "The funding provided for free school meals falls well short of what is needed and school's are having to use the money creatively.

"There are certainly a number of schools that are having to make difficult decisions."

Of the 29 counties experiencing a shortfall in the 2014/15 financial year, Kent ranked worst - ahead of Waltham Forest, Enfield and Hampshire.

Will Kent children have to keep bringing their own?

A Kent County Council spokesman said: "KCC knows of three schools in the county that have concerns regarding the provision of free school meals, but is not aware of any schools that will not be able to provide free school meals to infant children.

“KCC intends to use the £2.7 million government funding for kitchen improvements.

"We hope to put in approximately 10 new kitchens, improve facilities and ventilation in approximately 10 schools and put additional equipment into 160 sites. A more realistic level of capital funding would be £7 million.”

Clair Hawkins, Labour’s parliamentary candidate in Dover & Deal, said: “This is really worrying and shows a poorly planned policy that doesn’t have the funding in place to make it a success. The shortfall in Kent is eye-watering and we need to know what’s being done to fix this problem.

“It really is a case of giving with one hand and taking away with the other, the money has to come from somewhere and that means other services will suffer. The coalition wants the headlines for a big idea but then leaves councils to pick up the pieces.”

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