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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Breakfast at Jane's place

The Western Mail reports this morning that the Assembly Government has finally admitted it cannot deliver on its promise of a free breakfast for every primary school child in Wales.

"Yet Education Minister Jane Davidson maintained that Labour had never made the promise in the first place......."

"It is the case that local education authorities and schools cannot be forced to provide breakfast free of charge under the current statutory framework, but that framework can be altered by an Act of Parliament.

"The Assembly has a major role in the preparation of Government Bills relating to education in Wales. The Assembly Government had the option of seeking Parliament's agreement to making participation compulsory by seeking provision in the Education Act 2005 which has just received Royal Assent. The Minister decided not to seek such provision because it was not needed to deliver the commitment made during the election 2003 campaign, which made clear that schools should have the option as to whether or not they participate."

It is at such moments that a Government squabbling over the precise wording of its manifesto starts to look shabby and evasive. As one of my colleagues has pointed out the Labour manifesto does not say where the 'primary school kid' has to be in order to receive the breakfast. They could stay at home and the parents send an invoice in.

What it actually said was "In our second term we will provide funding for all primary school children to have free breakfasts at school, giving kids a square meal in the morning and helping to tackle truancy." However it also said elsewhere "Next Steps: Free breakfasts for all primary school kids." Nothing there about schools opting out at all.

I believe that most people who listened to Labour politicians in 2003 believed that their child would receive a free school breakfast regardless of any other consideration. The fact that many may not not now get that meal will appear to those voters as another broken promise.

The irony is that the promise itself does not offer value for money. The £17 million plus that it will cost could have made some difference to class sizes or to avoiding teacher redundancies. Instead Labour have opted for a gimmick. If they are allowed to benefit from this promise then children will be better fed but what will be the cost for the rest of their education?
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