Friday 29 June 2012
There was a real feel of local government being at a crossroads around the LGA conference in Birmingham this week, particularly as the LGA launched its report into future financing to coincide with the start of the event. What it showed was that based on current projections there will be a £16.5b shortfall on council budgets by 2020.
It predicted that 45% of budgets will be spent on social services by the end of the decade due to increased need and with waste disposal also creating significant cost pressures, services such as roads maintenance, libraries and leisure could see their budgets eroded by 90% compared to present comparative levels.
The 28% cuts between 2010/11 and 2014/15 have impacted heavily on council finances and combined with growing demand it really does leave council’s staring into a financial abyss. Without reform of adult social care funding soon this financial Armageddon scenario is likely to become a reality. That is why in APSE we are calling for an all-party parliamentary commission to consider this issue as a highest priority.
Conference week is always a great chance to catch up with some of the key players in the local government family in its widest sense and capture the mood music. On the way into the venue I stopped to chat with 4 very different council leaders in the first 20 minutes and there was over 200 visitors to the APSE stand over the course of the 3 days. The topic of finance wasn’t far from most peoples lips.
For those who believe in local government as a force for good in wider society it really is a scary thought that its role could be no more than that of an insignificant bystander within the local community, unable to have influence over the major public policy issues of the day due to its lack of any meaningful involvement in the services that the public consume on a daily basis.
Tuesday 19 June 2012
APSE has welcomed the debate about school meals that has been opened up as a result of schoolgirl Martha Payne's blog.
The 'Never Seconds' blog by the nine-year-old from Lochgilphead, Argyll has put school food under the media spotlight. We have campaigned for the highest standards in school food and believes that opening up debate will give school meals the importance they deserve politically.
Martha's blog takes a balanced view and her experience of food at school is positive overall. Though some meals appear less appetising than others, her latest ‘food-o-meter’ score rated her school lunch 10/10.
APSE's data shows that nutritional standards and uptake of primary school meals have risen over the past five years despite the fact that funding has not kept pace with food costs and pressure on education caters' budgets has increased.
Every day, school catering staff freshly prepare, cook and serve thousands of meals for children. The meals are delivered to strict nutritional standards, within a very limited budget and a short timeframe. For some children, school lunch may be the only hot cooked meal they get each day. Whilst there may be variation and caterers don't get everything right all the time, we should applaud their hard work and dedication in delivering school meals to high standards with decreasing budgets. Martha's blog has highlighted that school meals really do matter. Getting children to take an interest in their meals can have positive effects and Martha's blog has given us an opportunity to keep school meals firmly on the political menu.'
Scotland has been in the vanguard of implementing positive school food policies. The Hungry for Success initiative introduced a radically different school meals service that is envied by many other countries. This allocated £137m Government funding between 2003 and 2009 and was backed with robust legislation for food and nutrient standards. This commitment was recently reinforced by its ‘National Food and Drink Policy’. Linking school meals to Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence is at the heart of the drive to tackle the nation's health challenges. School caterers who are sourcing locally are also opening up the supply chain to hard pressed Scottish food producers and suppliers.'
APSE’s data shows that in Scotland's school meals are of a high standard. We continually collect data on good practice and measure performance throughout the UK, so we know that the quality is there and services provided are both innovative and highly rated.
School meals should be fully supported by Ministers and headteachers. Heads need to consider the impact on school food when timetables are condensed leaving less time to serve pupils and for pupils to eat their meals, as this can impact on presentation. Political parties need to understand that school meals should be integrated into school improvement and health measures.