THOUSANDS of parents are to benefit after councillors agreed plans to freeze the price of school meals for the next academic year.
Hartlepool Borough Council has agreed its strategy for the service which includes keeping the price families pay the same with a pledge to try and reduce the cost in the future.
The current price of a school meal is £1.90 in primary schools and in secondary schools items are individually priced and the cost of the meal is therefore determined by the items purchased, but a Free School Meal is charged at £2.10.
Councillors on the council’s finance and policy committee had three options, to reduce the price, freeze it and look at pricing incentives for those with more than one child in school.
Members were told a 10p reduction in the price would result in lost income of around £130,000 and sales would need to increase by about 170,000 meals just to make up the shortfall.
Officers said that would represent 65 per cent overall take up and in the past five years the maximum overall take up achieved has been 58 per cent. It currently stands at 53 per cent, which was a three per cent rise on the year before and above the national average.
Dave Stubbs, the council’s chief executive, said the aim was to get the school meals service to break even.
Graham Frankland, assistant director of resources, said: “We do provide healthy and nutritional food and the schools meals service is well regarded and performs well.”
Council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher said: “Our aspiration has to be increase the take-up and if we are making a profit to reduce the price.”
Labour councillor Robbie Payne stressed though that in some cases a price freeze is a rise in practical terms for some families, while Labour colleague Chris Simmons said if the council had the resources, the ideal would be to provide a free meal every day for school children.
Councillors agreed the strategy to freeze prices for 2013-14, endorsed that strong support is needed from schools and parents to work towards a continued price freeze and a longer term reduction of school meal prices and approved the feasibility study into offering financial incentives for families with more than one child in education.