Kitchen improvements leave councils out of pocket

Two councils in Berkshire have revealed this week how preparing school kitchens for the start of the free meals service is set to leave them out of pocket by thousands of pounds.

Local media reports said Reading Borough Council will be £207,000 down when the scheme launches next month, while Wokingham Borough Council faces a funding gap of £210,000.

Authorities that encounter a shortfall will have to make up the funds from other budgets to ensure the work is done.

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A Wokingham Borough Council spokeswoman told the Bracknell Times: “The total we received from central Government for universal infant free school meals was £480,000, which was not enough — our costs have been identified at £690,000 — so we secured funding from other Dedicated Schools Grant [allocations] and capital budgets to ensure we have a service provision in place from September.”

Not every school in the area is struggling to make ends meet when it comes to UIFSM preparations, however.

Bracknell Forest Council has been cited as one of the few local authorities in the area to ready school kitchens for the scheme without having to dip into any other budgets.

It received £282,000 from the government and a further £58,000 for Diocesan schools and is budgeting to spend £269,000, which actually leaves it with a surplus.

David Watkins, the council’s chief officer for strategy, resources and early intervention, said it was on top of its catering equipment requirements.

“We have a dedicated project team supporting schools and their ongoing work includes procuring extra kitchen equipment within the council’s catering contract and purchasing and installing new ovens in several schools,” he commented.

“We have written to parents to gauge initial take-up so we can plan for any major changes needed to school kitchens and dining rooms; this will help us plan for any further changes we need to make due to a high demand.”

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