County councillors reject free school meals motion – then eat one themselves

PUBLISHED: 09:59 03 April 2018

The main dish prepared by Michael Goulston for Herts County Council members. Picture: Herts County Council

The main dish prepared by Michael Goulston for Herts County Council members. Picture: Herts County Council

Archant

Conservative members of Herts County Council have been accused of hypocrisy after they voted down a motion on free school meals, then “trooped off” to enjoy one themselves.

Stevenage school cook Michael Goulston serves his award-winning lunch to county councillors at County Hall in Hertford. Picture: Herts County CouncilStevenage school cook Michael Goulston serves his award-winning lunch to county councillors at County Hall in Hertford. Picture: Herts County Council

At County Hall on Tuesday last week, the Conservative majority rejected a motion proposed by the Labour group and backed by the Liberal Democrat opposition that would have seen leader David Williams write to the chancellor, demanding proposed changes to free school meals be reversed.

Councillors then enjoyed a free lunch from Michael Goulston – chef at Stevenage’s Peartree Spring Primary School – who prepared the menu that last month saw him named best school cook in the country.

Councillor Robin Parker, who represents Chells for the Liberal Democrats on Herts County Council. Picture: David HartnupCouncillor Robin Parker, who represents Chells for the Liberal Democrats on Herts County Council. Picture: David Hartnup

Liberal Democrat councillor Robin Parker – who represents Chells in Stevenage – said this was “an act of supreme irony” and alleged it was hypocritical of the Conservatives, considering what they had been discussing.

“The Tories voted down that motion and then trooped off a few minutes later for a lunch which was a school lunch,” he said.

David Williams, leader of Hertfordshire County Council. Picture: Pete Stevens.David Williams, leader of Hertfordshire County Council. Picture: Pete Stevens.

Mr Williams said most councillors, including Mr Parker, take part in the lunches served during full council meetings – held five times a year – and said it was a shame the county council’s highlighting of Herts Catering chef Mr Goulston’s talent and achievement had “attracted this misjudged political slight”.

The rejected Labour motion said the proposed changes to Universal Credit now going through parliament would see thousands of Herts children lose out on free school meals. It cited Children’s Society research showing there are 35,100 children in poverty in Herts, of whom only 8,500 qualify for free school meals.

The motion concluded: “Many thousands more vulnerable children and their families will be forced into even more unnecessary poverty, adding to increased pressure on our children’s services and at food banks across all our district councils if this legislation is given the green light by the Government.”

Following the debate, a county council spokeswoman said: “Herts County Council is in contact with the Department for Education to clarify next steps.

“The county council is keen to ensure that all eligible children continue to have access to free school meals, and councillors will be scrutinising the issue over the summer term. A report will now be prepared by officers to inform the discussion.”

The Department for Education has said nobody who already gets free school meals will lose them. It estimates that by 2022 the changes to the system will see 50,000 more pupils across England claiming free school meals.

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