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200 sign petition to save hot meals at nurseries

PARENTS have launched a campaign to keep hot meals at council-run nurseries.

HUNGER STRIKE: Victoria Reid and twins Vera and Thomas leads a protest about the loss of hot meals outside Calderside Nursery Centre in Blantyre. Picture: Martin Shields
HUNGER STRIKE: Victoria Reid and twins Vera and Thomas leads a protest about the loss of hot meals outside Calderside Nursery Centre in Blantyre. Picture: Martin Shields

Families have started a petition to reverse the decision, part of wider cuts by South Lanarkshire Council and which affects all its stand-alone nurseries.

Children attending nurseries attached to schools will still get the option of hot meals, which currently cost £1.20.

More than 200 names have been collected so far and parents have also started a campaign on social networking site Facebook.

Victoria Reid, 36, from Uddingston has twins at Calderside Nursery in Blantyre. She now written to the council along with another parent to complain about the move - which will save the council £60,000.

She said: "We parents of children at South Lanarkshire Council nurseries are extremely concerned about the decision to end provision of paid meals in early years.

"We are being told the decision is to make cost savings, but we are not convinced the council has a case here and wish the council to reverse its decision."

Ms Reid said there was significant social deprivation in many of the catchment areas of South Lanarkshire nurseries.

She said that many parents and carers were either on benefits or the minimum wage.

"It is hard to eat healthily on a limited budget and for some children this service provides the only hot meal of the day.

"Removing the meals will have seriously detrimental effects on nutrition for some children," she said.

"Children taking school meals are eating the same as most of the other infants in their room and not only is this the most straightforward way for the staff to supervise mealtimes, but also, no child on school meals is having a less good meal than anyone else, which aids social integration and children's confidence.

"For working parents or carers, the added work of shopping for and preparing decent varied packed lunches for little ones will be a further pressure."

Ms Reid said it was ironic that the decision coincided with First Minister Alex Salmond's recent announcement that all pupils in the first three years of primary would be provided with free school meals from January 2015.

"South ­Lanarkshire Council's decision to end the school meals service in early years is detrimental to infants' wellbeing and makes short-term savings by targeting the most vulnerable," she added.

"It does this in a climate of hardship, when the use of food banks, for example, is on the rise, and when the importance of good nourishment of our youngsters is being recognized at the highest levels of government."

However, in a letter to parents, Morag McDonald, the council's early years manager, said the removal of the service was part of cuts of more than £13 million facing South Lanarkshire in 2014/15.

She said: "The council, in common with all public bodies in Scotland, faces continuing economic challenges.

"One of the approved savings proposals relates to the removal of the subsidised element of the school meal service in the council's early years stand-alone nurseries."

Mrs McDonald said there was no legislative requirement for councils to provide school meals to children under the age of five, but a subsidy had been provided in the past.

She added: "The agreed proposal is to remove the subsidy and for parents to provide packed lunches for their children."

The council will now provide nurseries with guidelines on the provision of healthy packed lunches to pass on to parents.

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