Pint-sized politicians took on the leader of Blackpool Council to debate the resort’s controversial free breakfast scheme.
Coun Simon Blackburn (below) ‘took to the stand’ in the Town Hall council chamber yesterday to take questions from more than 40 schoolchildren from six of the town’s schools.
It was a chance for members of school councils to air their concerns about the impact the scheme can have on waste and waistlines, and for the council leader to reiterate his assertions it is only a positive move for the town.
Since Blackpool Council launched its free breakfast scheme in January, offering the resort’s thousands of primary school children a morning meal free of charge, at a cost of £1.3m annually to the taxpayer, it has been hotly debated.
Youngsters from St Bernadette’s, Holy Family, Christ the King and Baines Endowed primary schools and Highfurlong and Park special schools filled the grand surrounds of the chamber to join the debate.
Nine-year-old Caitlyn Davies, a pupil at St Bernadette’s in Bispham, opened proceedings.
“We are very grateful for the breakfast,” she said. “However we are concerned about the amount of waste produced ... it is money which could be spent on other things.” On the point of waste Coun Blackburn said he was “banged to rights” and agreed the council and schools should do all they can to reduce both leftover food and waste going to landfill.
Jake Wood, 10, a pupil at Baines Endowed, added: “Food being prepared is not eaten because it is not what we like.”
But Coun Blackburn stressed decisions on what food to order and how much was down to individual schools.
And Park School’s Kyle, perched in the leader’s usual seat in the council chamber, added his voice to the debate.
The Year 10 pupil said: “Parents should have to give permission for pupils to have breakfast so children don’t have two breakfasts.”
Coun Blackburn said: “I want this to be a scheme you choose not to be in rather than choose to be in.
“What I don’t want is a room full of children fed at school which makes them look different from children fed at home.
“Those children, it doesn’t mean their parents are lazy or poor or don’t care, what it often means is parents are very, very busy.”
The leader of Blackpool Council’s Labour division offered a few candid insights into his own life as examples to answers, admitting there isn’t always time for his own children to have breakfast at home and that he opts for a morning cigarette over breakfast.
But, pushed on the position parents play in feeding youngsters ahead of the school day, Coun Blackburn declined to answer some queries. Are you questioning our parents ability to feed us properly?” asked a youngster from Christ The King Catholic Primary School, on Grange Park.
“If the teacher who wrote that question would like to contact me directly I will answer it,” replied Coun Blackburn.
Coun Blackburn was impressed by the children and said he couldn’t help but see a little of himself in the determined youngsters.
He told The Gazette: “Thirty years ago I was one of those children who asked difficult questions.
“[The debate is] good in the respect some of the points raised are very valid, in terms of waste particularly, that is something we’ve got to address.
“It’s also a great opportunity to challenge some of the misconceptions, like how much schools order and the choice of food is down to them and not the council.”
And the youngsters were equally pleased with the afternoon, voting unanimously that they had enjoyed themselves and learned a lot.
Jake added: “It was brilliant.”
The council leader closed proceedings with an open invitation for another debate to revisit the breakfast scheme next year to ensure children’s concerns were addressed where possible.