THE closure of Cheshire East’s school meals service is causing ‘real distress’ to some head teachers and one small school faces losing a full-time staff member.

The council’s children and families committee voted last month to close its loss-making school meals service next April, saying it could no longer afford to subsidise it to the tune of approximately £515,000.

It is also putting up the price of its meals for schools from September until the service ends next year.

Cllr Janet Clowes (Wybunbury, Con) said this was going to cause real hardship for some schools which were now looking for alternative providers.

Northwich Guardian: Cllr Janet ClowesCllr Janet Clowes (Image: Cheshire East Council)

“What happens when schools are having to take this on and can’t afford it?” she asked at Monday's meeting of the children and families committee.

“A school has contacted me identifying that in order to take this on it will cost them a full-time member of staff and, being a small rural school, that is something they have no idea how they are going to manage at this moment in time.”

Claire Williamson, director of strong start, family help and Integration, said a future meeting had been arranged with head teachers to listen to their concerns.

She said officers would be working to find out which schools would be financially impacted by this ‘to look at the options they have’.

The service currently caters for 87 schools.

Mrs Williamson said 12 schools had decided to stop using the service in September, some would stop in December and some would stay until it closed in the spring.

“The longer the schools stay with us, the higher chance it is going to cost them more money,” she said.

She added: “This is not a position I want any of the schools to be in, however we find ourselves in the position the authority cannot subsidise the school catering service.”

Mrs Williamson said if it continued, it would mean getting rid of some frontline local authority staff.

She added: “I want to listen to the head teachers in this meeting we’ve got in the next couple of weeks, to really understand what the impact means for them and I am hearing it is causing real distress to some head teachers and staff.”

Committee chair Carol Bulman (Middlewich, Lab) said: “None of this committee wanted to make that cut. That is really upsetting to hear.”

Cllr Rachel Bailey (Audlem, Con) asked why the council had not reviewed school meal charges for five years, but she did not get an answer.

Northwich Guardian: Cllr Sarah Bennett-WakeCllr Sarah Bennett-Wake (Image: Cheshire East Council)

Cllr Sarah Bennett-Wake (Macclesfield, Lab) said the cost of food inflation is about 25 per cent.

“The former government won’t give us any money because we haven’t saved enough money for the debt that they’ve put us in because they haven’t given us enough per child,” she said.

“Inflation’s shot through the roof. What goes up, never comes down in the shops.”