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Extra cash 'not meant for free school meals', says Norfolk County Council leader

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The leader of Norfolk County Council has said government money to support vulnerable families during the pandemic was “never intended to be used for free school meals”.

As the furore over last week's Commons vote blocking the extension of meals during the holidays until next Easter continues, ministers have suggested that extra funding given to councils could be used to meet the need.

But Andrew Proctor, leader of the Conservative-run county authority, said the £1m that it received from central government as emergency assistance funding had either been spent or earmarked to provide support over Christmas.

Andrew Proctor. (42328060)
Andrew Proctor. (42328060)

He said: “Concerns have been raised locally and nationally about how we can support our residents and communities as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

“Throughout it all, Norfolk County Council has been providing targeted support for vulnerable people and families, either directly or with our partners.

“This was before we received the £1.015 million allocated by the government as an emergency assistance grant for food and essential supplies.

“We have spent half of that and the rest is earmarked to provide support during Christmas and the remainder of this year.”

And he added: “The money was never intended to be used for free school meals.

“The government provided separate funding for free school meal vouchers between March and mid-July. If the government reintroduced that scheme and provided sufficient funding, we would, of course, support its delivery.”

The comments came after businesses, community groups and members of the public joined forces in Lynn to help families in need during the half-term holiday at the weekend.

Mike Smith-Clare, Labour spokesman for children and young people, said: “It is glaringly obvious the utter contempt these privileged elected individuals hold our children and young people in.

“To condemn young lives to hunger and desperation is a crime against humanity and social decency.

“No amount of spin, pretence and handwringing can hide their true undeniable cruelty.”

Norfolk’s Conservative MPs who voted down extending provision of free school meals to pupils during the holidays were branded “heartless and cruel” by a Labour counterpart last week.

Businesses , community groups and others have also rallied to help provide free meals to children after MPs rejected England footballer Marcus Rashford’s bid to extend the provision during half-term, while volunteers spent the weekend preparing food parcels for children at risk of going hungry during the break.

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