The Lib Dem leader in Cardiff has previously free school meals as “Happy Meal politics”.
Nick Clegg’s attempt to portray his plans for free school lunches for primary school pupils as a victory for hard working parents risks embarrassment for the party as it emerges the Lib Dem leader in Cardiff has previously derided a similar scheme in Wales as “Happy Meal politics”.
In 2004, Wales began piloting free breakfasts (still seen as the most important meal of the day) for children in a select group of Schools, which three years later was rolled out nationally. The School Standards and Organisation (Wales) Act, passed earlier this year, placed a legal duty on local authorities to ensure the provision of primary school free breakfasts continues.
Despite the obvious similarities between this and the scheme announced by Nick Clegg yesterday, in 2007 his now Leader in Wales, who was then the party’s shadow education minister in Cardiff, criticised the initiative, raising questions over whether she supports what her leader has now announced.
Speaking to the party’s spring conference in 2007, Kirsty Williams attacked Labour and other parties for offering free giveaways rather than substantial plans for education. In singling out the free breakfast initiative, she declared it akin to “happymeal politics – a free toy with every vote”
Ms Williams has also criticised minister in Cardiff for introducing free breakfasts at the expense of teacher numbers. In 2006 she argued:
“Powys may lose up to 70 teachers this year because of cuts in education. While of course I recognise the importance of a good breakfast to a child’s wellbeing, resources are finite. When it comes to a choice between the two, I would rather see teachers in classrooms than breakfasts. The Labour Assembly Government clearly does not share my priorities, and I am concerned that it is our children’s education that will suffer.”
How embarrassing it must be, then, that her own leader is seeking to implement free meals for primary school children at the same time as the UK government has presided over a fall in teacher numbers in England.
Commenting on the deputy prime minister’s announcement yesterday, a spokesperson for the Welsh government said:
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“The Free Breakfasts In Primary Schools Scheme is designed to help improve the health and concentration of pupils, and to develop healthy eating habits from a young age.
“We will press Treasury for further details of the funding package announced…but we expect Wales to get the Barnett consequential of any additional funding made available in England in the normal way.”