Threat to free school milk in Scots schools as councils refuse scheme guarantee

West Lothian has cut back free school milk provision

ONLY three Scottish councils out of 19 contacted in a survey are prepared to guarantee the provision of free school milk.

Moray Council has revealed that it stopped free milk altogether last year, while Stirling, Angus and Scottish Borders councils only provide free milk to nursery-age youngsters.

It emerged earlier this week that West Lothian council plans to save £123,000-a-year by stopping free milk for early primary children who do not receive free school meals.

But asked if they were prepared to guarantee no further cuts to their free school milk policy, only North Ayrshire, Falkirk and East Renfrewshire said yes.

Falkirk Council is one of the most generous in Scotland when it comes to free milk, offering a carton to any pupil who buys a school dinner.

A spokesman said: “Obviously if they go home for lunch or bring a packed lunch they won’t get it. We can guarantee this will not be changing in light of the budget reviews.”

East Renfrewshire – one of Scotland’s wealthiest areas – says it can guarantee it will not scrap free milk for pupils in primaries one to three.

Carol Kirk, corporate director of education and skills for North Ayrshire Council, said: “As part of their meeting to decide North Ayrshire Council’s budget for 2011/12, elected members agreed to continue to provide free school milk for pupils.

“Children attending nursery and primary one to primary three currently receive free milk. Primary school pupils who receive free school meals are also able to apply for free milk.”

Free milk in schools has long been seen as a basic right for any child, particularly those who also receive free school meals.

But Moray, which was recently revealed to have the lowest average household incomes in Scotland, stopped providing free milk in schools altogether last year.

All schools in the Lothians have now scaled back free milk, after West Lothian’s controversial move.

The step by the SNP-led council, who hope to cut spending by £15 million to balance their books, was blasted by parents and opposition groups, who said it could be damaging to children’s health and would hit cash-strapped parents most.

Playgroup manager Gill Boyd, 37, from Broxburn, has two children – Aaron, six, and Alex, four – who will miss out.

She said: “17p does not sound like a lot of money but it will soon mount up if you have two kids affected and you are paying it every day.

“The council are always on about promoting healthy eating and drinking, so surely there are other things they could have looked at.

“A lot of parents may decide not to pay for the milk, leading to more kids coming in with fizzy drinks, which flies in the face of the healthy-eating ethos.”

John McGinty, leader of the council’s opposition Labour group, compared the controversial cut to Margaret Thatcher’s decision to abolish free school milk in the 1970s, which earned her the reputation as “Thatcher, Thatcher – milk snatcher”.

He said: “West Lothian is seeing the return of the days of ‘Maggie Thatcher – milk snatcher’ – only this time the SNP are doing the snatching.

The £15million of SNP cuts will hit the area hard and every family will feel the pinch. Hard-pressed family budgets are now going to be asked to bear the cost.

“This is a mean-spirited move by the SNP and shows the real price of cuts as they axe services and the council sheds more than 400 jobs.”

Free or subsidised milk in schools started in 1934, but the scheme was abolished in secondary schools in 1968.

Lorraine McCreary, specialist dietician at the Priory in Glasgow and owner of Diet Scotland, said: “Certainly for some children that (milk) might be in any day the only source of good quality calcium that they get.

“It’s an important source of energy and protein and the fat that is in the milk is actually quite important for children who are running around all day.

“It seems short-sighted and a bit backward thinking.

“At one point it was established and at one point people recognised there was a need for primary school pupils to have milk on a daily basis.

“They set a precedent at one point and I don’t know what evidence they have now to say that milk is not important.”

But, it seems West Lothian Council has just brought itself into line with the other Lothian local authorities, as a spokesperson for East Lothian Council said they have had a similar scheme running for the past 10 years, whereby only pupils receiving free schools meals can claim a free carton of milk.

Both Edinburgh and Midlothian Councils offer the same policy, as does Fife, however the capital’s council does still offer milk to nursery children.

A spokesman for the City of Edinburgh Council said: “Free milk is provided daily to all pupils in our early years centres.

“In primary and special schools, children entitled to free school meals also qualify for free milk.”

A spokeswoman for Midlothian Council said: “At the present time we have not yet set our budget so it would be difficult to guarantee whether changes would be made or not.

“Currently pupils entitled to free school meals are given a 200ml carton of milk each day.”

Orkney Islands Council said they have a savings target of £950,000 set for their education budget in 2011/12, but that there were no proposals at the present time to end free milk for pupils.

South Lanarkshire and Aberdeenshire Councils also offer free milk to those children who also receive free school meals and both said they have no plans to change their policy, but a spokesman for Aberdeenshire Council said: “There is no free milk as such within our schools, but children in all primaries have the choice between a carton of milk or fruit juice when they buy a school lunch for £1.85.

“And any child who gets a free school meal also gets this choice.

“We have no plans to change this, but in the current climate you can never say never.”

A spokesman for Perth and Kinross Council said: “We have no plans to change our policy.

“Each budget is set for the year ahead, so obviously we can’t guarantee what will happen after that, but for now there are no plans to change things.”

A spokeswoman for Dumfries and Galloway Council said: “In our recent budget review we haven’t made any changes to any of our primary school policies.

“There are no planned changes, but when is there ever a guarantee?”

Stirling, Angus, and the Scottish Borders Councils all only offer children in nurseries free milk.

A spokesperson for Angus Council said: “The only pupils who receive free milk are those in nursery classes: no pupils in primary receive free milk.

“However, we are able to offer subsidised milk in a number of primary schools which operate tuck shops, where pupils pay 15p rather than 26p for milk. There are no plans to change current arrangements.”

Aberdeen City Council provides free milk to all nursery and primary one pupils and said they have no plans to scrap this scheme this year.