Before the summer holidays Derbyshire County Council announced that primary school meal prices will increase by 41% to £3.25 a day from September – after catering services have been significantly affected by inflation and other factors driving up the cost of food and staffing.
Following the announcment, a petition was launched calling for the prices to be lower as they are above the national average cost of £2.65 per meal.
It has now been signed by 6,475 parents.
One of the parents who signed the petition, Lara Knight told Derbyshire Times: “From September there will be families in our county who are above the threshold for Free School Meals who simply can not afford the almost £5 per week increase. Children will be having packed lunches every day whilst the Government published a report in Autumn 2022 about the value if every primary child having access to school meals. They help children do better in school, reduce obesity and help them do better in their lifetime in terms of job prospects.
“Yet children in Derbyshire are being penalised by the council who are increasing costs. Warwickshire and Lancashire councils are increasing their primary school meals by 10p a day to £2.45 and £2.50 respectively. Families in these counties will pay an increase of £19.50 over the 39 school weeks of the year whereas families in Derbyshire will be paying an increase of £185.25. The difference between these amounts is staggering.”
Derbyshire County Council Cabinet Member for Education Councillor Alex Dale said: “The decision to increase meal prices was an incredibly difficult one which we made very reluctantly, given the pressures we know families across the county are facing with the cost of living.
“We’re acutely aware that it was a significant increase and it wasn’t a decision that we took lightly by any means. But the sad reality is that, as a service, we are not immune to those same cost pressures.
“With food inflation having reached the heights of 19%, the costs of our ingredients are soaring and last year’s local government pay award alone left a £1.28m hole in our budget.
“If not addressed, these challenges threaten to make the service unsustainable in the future, meaning we’d no longer be able to serve healthy, nutritious, hot meals to Derbyshire pupils and the jobs of 1500 hardworking and valued employees would be at risk.
“Although this year’s increase may seem like a lot in one go, this is largely due to the fact that we have started from a much lower base, at £2.30, than many other authorities. We have worked extremely hard to keep our prices down, freezing them in five out of the past eight years and we are constantly striving to make the service more efficient.
“We’re aware of the petition which will be considered in accordance with our usual processes under the council’s Petition Scheme after it closes to signatures on 14 September.”