NICOLA Sturgeon has confirmed free school meals will be extended to those in need over the summer – with more than £12 million handed to councils to hand out the “vital” support. 

Free school meals are currently being handed out to around 175,000 children across Scotland – and are delivered either at schools or nursery premises, though direct cash payments or supermarket vouchers. 

The First Minister has announced that funding will be given to Scottish councils for the support service to be continued – while another £15 million will handed over to local authorities to provide other support services to families. 

Ms Sturgeon said: “This provision will be extended right throughout the summer holiday period. We know families are under considerable financial pressure just now and free school meals are a vital help to many – they are also really important to the health and wellbeing of children. 

READ MORE: Boris Johnson u-turns on free school meals policy

“We will provide £12.6 million in funding to local authorities to enable the continuation of free school meals during the period from the end of June to the start of the new term in August. The funding will be allocated in a way that allows councils, as many of them currently do, to coordinate school meal provision with wider support that they make available to families.” 

She added: In addition to that, we are making £15 million available to counciils to maintain some of that wider support – in particular the support for food which is currently available for people in severe poverty, people who face other barriers to getting food and people who are being asked to isolate under the new test and protect system. 

“At a time when many families will be finding it much harder than normal to make ends meet, I hope that these announcements provides some reassurance during an extremely difficult time.” 

The number of children receiving free school food has risen by 53,000 since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic due to the impact of the pandemic on family incomes and financial circumstances. 

Cosla, the umbrella organisation for Scottish councils, has welcomed the announcement. 

READ MORE: Ruth Davidson tells Boris Johnson to 'feed the kids' over free school meals row

In a joint statement, Cosla resources spokesperson, Gail Macgregor, and children and young people spokesperson, Stephen McCabe, said: “COSLA welcomes today’s announcement from the First Minister on additional funding for food provision.  

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, the effort of council staff in ensuring access to food for those who need it has been heroic.  

 “Councils and their partners have worked successfully, innovatively and at pace to ensure that eligible children continue to receive free school meals.” 

They added: “Successful mechanisms have also been put in place in every local authority area to ensure food is available to those who are unable to access it by the usual means due to isolation requirements or financial reasons. This support for those who are most vulnerable and for those with low income remains a key priority. 

 “Councils will continue to work on the front line to ensure this provision remains available to those in need as we continue to respond to Covid-19 and as our communities begin to recover.”