Council admits ‘falling short’ on free school meal parcels

East Renfrewshire Council has come under fire over pictures shared online of its food parcels.

Council admits ‘falling short’ on free school meal parcels Twitter
Food parcel: One parent said the rolls delivered expired the following day.

A council has admitted standards fell short in a “small number of cases” following complaints over its free school meal packs delivered to families during lockdown.

East Renfrewshire Council has come under fire over pictures shared online of its food parcels.

One parent said the latest package, delivered on Monday, included almost out-of-date rolls.

The yoghurt, mayonnaise and cheese were also reportedly delivered unrefrigerated.

The parcel also included a small number of fruit and vegetables, a tin of tuna, meatballs, rich tea biscuits and noodles that were said to “look like plastic”.

The mum is calling for the council to instead issue vouchers so as children can be given a choice of what to eat.

She also highlighted that the “unnecessary process of packing and distributing these packs” increases the risk of transmission of coronavirus.

Jackson Carlaw, the MSP for Eastwood and former leader of the Scottish Conservatives, has written to the council following a number of complaints from constituents.

In a letter to chief executive Lorraine McMillan, he said: “I am extremely concerned that vulnerable families in East Renfrewshire may not always be receiving adequate food provision to support them at this extremely challenging time and the system of sending food packages locally appears to be failing on far too many occasions.”

Carlaw called for the local authority to move to a supermarket voucher system.

He added: “It is important that we all learn from experience and  to recognise that the quality of food parcels has proved to be inconsistent and vastly inferior to the flexibility of vouchers to parents who can then make decisions appropriate to their family needs.”

The outcry in Scotland follows similar complaints in England in which a £30 food parcel was estimated to contain just more than £5 worth of food.

Campaigners – including Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford and food writer Jack Monroe – have spearheaded the call for better school meals, with many arguing councils should provide vouchers instead.

It is understood that East Renfrewshire Council and East Ayrshire Council are the only two local authorities in Scotland not offering voucher or cash alternatives to food deliveries during the stricter lockdown restrictions.

A spokesperson from East Renfrewshire Council said the local authority has delivered more than 36,000 free school meal packs since March 2020.

They added: “The contents of the food packs, which can be amended to cater for all dietary requirements, are designed in consultation with nutritionists to ensure they are as close to the Scottish Government’s health guidelines as possible and provide enough food for one child’s lunch for five days, including fresh fruit and vegetables. 

“All the food is provided through our usual suppliers and the packs are then put together in-house by council staff. 

“In the small number of cases that the quality of the food packs has fallen short, we have worked as quickly as possible to rectify these issues. 

“We took a decision back in March 2020 that the approach of providing meal packs was more beneficial for the majority of families as it ensured that nutritious food was provided and will continue to keep this situation under review.”