Blackpool’s free school breakfast revolution is set to continue for another year – at a cost of £1.3m.
Councillors are expected to rubber-stamp the scheme later this month, meaning all of the town’s primary school pupils would be given breakfasts until the end of March next year.
It comes as The Gazette can reveal the findings of a report by researchers who claim the pilot scheme – launched in January – has had a “significant positive effect on children’s breakfast habits”.
The report, by Northumbria University, lists a raft of recommendations including reducing the amount of food wasted, where breakfasts are being eaten and giving staff better training – and “strongly recommends” the scheme is continued.
Today, town hall leader Simon Blackburn insisted the scheme’s objectives outlined at the start are being realised – and says the extra cash will continue to change the lives of children in the resort.
But opponents today said the £1.3m cost would be better spent elsewhere – and slammed the amount of food wastage as ‘obscene’.
oud of the bold decision we made to trial this scheme, a move that no other council has made, and I’m even prouder today to see the results of the research that shows we are improving the lives of our most vulnerable residents.
“I welcome the recommendations made by the University, many of which we had already identified and are working on solutions.
“The last five months have been a huge learning curve for our staff and the schools and I’d like to thank everyone for embracing this scheme and adapting so well.”
The £1.3m cost has already been agreed in the council’s 2013/14 £600m budget – £800,000 of which already earmarked from the public health budget, which now comes under the council’s jurisdiction.
Coun Ivan Taylor, Blackpool Council cabinet member for health and wellbeing, assured “we are not robbing from other programmes to pay for the breakfast scheme.”
He said efficiencies in staffing had been made when health services were transferred from the PCT to the council’s control and added: “We got a ring-fenced allocation from the Government for public health. We think it’s important to improve the health of children in Blackpool.”
The scheme, launched in January, was introduced after the local authority said too many children were arriving at school having had no breakfast, or an unhealthy breakfast.
It said the objectives set out are now being met although it is too early to determine thoroughly enough the impact on attainment and attendance.
Coun Blackburn said: “Across Blackpool children were coming to school hungry and struggling to concentrate.
“It was not a situation we could allow to continue.”
Many schools say they were already using money from their budgets to give breakfasts to hungry youngsters or had considered doing so.
Tracey Harrison, headteacher at Thames Primary Academy in South Shore, said: “We already operated our own breakfast club, from our own school budget, for children who hadn’t had a calm start to the day.
“In terms of cost it was probably about £6,000 per year for support staff and items to give children from 12 to 15 targeted families.”
Waterloo Primary headteacher Mark Gray said staff provided cereal bars for those children in need already.
He added: “We considered doing it two years ago – we knew quite a number of children were not having breakfast - but couldn’t afford.”
Sue Diver, headteacher at Mereside Primary School, said “If we knew they hadn’t had anything we’d give it to them anyway. It’s made it an even playing field, you don’t always know if they come in without breakfast but nobody needs to say that anymore.”
The £18,000 cost of the report was included in the original £700,000 set aside for the initial pilot scheme.
Councillors are expected to rubberstamp the plans on Monday, June 17.
Key findings of the report:
• High proportion of children consumed breakfast items at home and at school.
• Children who attended school breakfast had significantly more healthy items than children who did not attend breakfast on day of survey.
• These children were found to “feel happier and more alert”.
• Scheme potentially plays a role in reducing inequalities in the nutritional quality of children’s diets.
• Publicity around the scheme has promoted importance of breakfast with consensus breakfast is ‘positive’.
• Breakfast runs better than expected – routine is key.
• Some parents might already be reliant on the scheme.
A bad taste in the mouth?
Coun Tony Williams, leader of the Conservative group on Blackpool Council, said he believes the £1.3m would be better spent on helping schools to improve Ofsted results.
He said : “Why are parents not feeding their children, and what are we doing about that? I fear we are dealing with the symptoms rather than the problem.
“The amount of wastage from the pilot scheme is obscene, with one caretaker telling me he was throwing pounds of bananas away.
“I am going to put a notice of motion before the next council meeting calling for wastage from the scheme to be given to Trinity Hospice and Blackpool Victoria Hospital, and even homeless hostels.”
Coun Simon Blackburn said he was satisfied the amount of waste was “negligible”.