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SCHOOL meal prices are set to stay the same in Merthyr Tydfil this year.

A report to go before the council’s cabinet on Wednesday, April 21 recommends a price freeze for 2021/2022.

The price of school meals was most recently increased in April 2019 by an increase of 20p across all schools with prices currently at £2.30 in primary schools and £2.70 in secondary schools.

No price increase was considered during the financial year 2020/21 due to the coronavirus pandemic and the interruption to the service.

The report said that the reduced trading days and reduced meal sales because of Covid has had a significant impact on the service budget during 2020/21.  It cited the combination of staff being furloughed during summer term 2020 and spring term 2021, as well as an income loss claim to the Welsh Government via the hardship grant, as the necessary factors in needing to balance the books.

The number of pupils eligible for free school meals in Merthyr Tydfil has “increased significantly” over the pandemic period according to the report
with an increase of 24.9% in total pupils eligible in February 2021 compared to January 2020.

The increase in the number of pupils eligible for free school meals has resulted in the service level agreement (SLA) income from schools being increased by £230,000 (to £1.5 million) when setting the budget for 2021/2022.

The main purpose of the school meals SLA is to cater for all pupils eligible for free school meals and the SLA charge covers the cost of providing school meals to these pupils.

The budgeted increase in income from free school meal pupils offsets the loss of income expected from reduced cash sales – due to fewer pupils being required to pay for their meals.

However, the report said that if the number of pupils eligible for free school meals continues to increase during 2021/22, this may have a further negative impact on the income recovered via meal sales – and presents a risk to the school meals budget during 2021/22.

The report added:

“An increase in school meal prices at the current time is expected to result in a further reduction to meal sales and would have an adverse impact on income recovery, particularly when meal numbers have fallen significantly during the pandemic when trading has been able to take place.

“A period of trading stability is required to provide an opportunity for school meal sales to recover to pre-pandemic levels and to assess any ongoing impacts to demand for school meals, both free school meals and paying meals, in the aftermath of the pandemic.”

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