NYCC being put in “impossible position” over holiday food for children, says Richmondshire councillor

Independent group leader and Richmond county councillor Stuart Parsons.

Funding from a Government programme to provide children with nutritious food and stimulating activities during school holidays will be insufficient, North Yorkshire County Council analysts have concluded.

When the Government launched its £220m Holiday Activities and Food Programme in November following widespread pressure, including from footballer Marcus Rashford, it stated local authorities needed to ensure the offer of free holiday club provision was available to all children eligible for free school meals.

However, it has emerged analysis of the £1,186,720 Government funding for the coming year given to North Yorkshire County Council, equates to just £1.25 per hour for the 11,000 eligible children.

An officer’s report to the authority’s leading members states: “The funding allocation is unlikely to be sufficient to provide a full offer for all eligible children.”

The report states meeting Government demands will be particularly challenging as the Department of Education is insisting providers meet specific dietary requirements and preferences and offer enriching activities that provide children with opportunities to develop new skills or knowledge or try out new experiences.

For the £1.25 an hour the Government is also demanding clubs include nutritional education each day, such as getting children involved in food preparation and cooking, growing fruit and vegetables, as well as provide training and advice sessions for parents, carers or other family members on how to source, prepare and cook nutritious and low-cost food.

The report states: “Philanthropic and voluntary contributions may help broaden the offer, but this is likely to be focussed on additionality rather than the core offer.”

The report states without the scheme children from disadvantaged families would be less likely to access organised out-of-school activities, more likely to experience “unhealthy holidays” in terms of nutrition and physical health, and more likely to experience social isolation.

Officers said while the programme at Easter would be impacted by Covid-19, meaning children would offered holiday activity packs, it was hoped the summer holidays would see a range of face-to-face activities run by a range of community partners.

The authority’s Independent group leader, Richmond county councillor Stuart Parsons said the council was being put in an impossible position by the Government.

He said: “The Government seems to believe local authorities are magicians. They can’t say a sovereign service must be offered and then offer a sixpence.

“There’s a whole tranche of people across the county who will miss out because the bar is so low. This scheme could lead to some children being stigmatised. We should be trying to create a universal scheme.”

The authority’s children and young people’s executive member, Councillor Janet Sanderson said even though evidence from pilot schemes in other areas had indicated up to 40 per cent of eligible children would take up the scheme, the funding would be challenging.

She said: “We have a proven history of making a little money go a long way and been creative about it. I’m not saying it’s going to be ideal, but I know how passionate North Yorkshire Youth is about delivering to children.

“There will be all sorts of things that hopefully that will expand that money.

“We don’t know how it’s going to work, but we are going to give it a good go. At least it’s a start to work with those children.”