Tayside youngsters are drinking bottled water trucked hundreds of miles from Wales and Yorkshire to local schools, it has emerged.
The scheme has been condemned as “driving a coach and horses” through the area’s environmental credentials.
However, the boss of Tayside Contracts, which handles catering in the region’s schools, has defended the move as value for money.
The water deal was confirmed during Angus Council scrutiny committee’s consideration of the annual Tayside Contracts performance report.
It was delivered by the body’s new chief executive, Keith McNamara, who took up the top role a few months’ ago.
Body employs almost 2,500 people across three council areas
Catering staff account for more than 700 employees.
Brechin SNP councillor Kenny Braes raised the issue of why bottled water was being bought from firms so far away.
“Tayside Contracts are an industrial caterer and need to keep their costs down,” he said.
“But trucking water up from Yorkshire and even Wales, in single use plastic bottles, drives a coach and horses through our environmental credentials.
“There’s no need to provide bottled water to pupils at lunchtime when they can get beautiful local water out of the tap.”
Tayside is home to two of the nation’s big bottled water firms – Highland Spring in Perthshire and Forfar’s Strathmore Mineral Water Company arm of Irn Bru giant A G Barr.
Mr McNamara said it was simply a case of getting the best deal.
“Right now the difference is tens of thousands (of pounds) and right now, that is why we have had to procure from the cheapest supplier. We are where we are.”
Mr Braes responded: “I get that, but surely the bairns should be drinking the water that comes out of the tap in schools and avoiding all the road haulage and additional costs.”
School meals uptake continues to drop
Efforts to reverse the trend of falling school meals uptake across the three council areas are also being made.
Although nearly five million school meals were provided in 2019/20, uptake was already in decline before the pandemic hit.
The coronavirus situation meant only a “cold bag” option could initially be offered when schools went back, for safety reasons.
Hot meals are now being served and Mr McNamara said demand has risen 30% since October.
Forfar councillor Lynne Devine said she had been “perturbed” by the decline across all authority areas.
Mr McNamara said: “I share your concern.
“We want to provide a healthy, nutritious meal, but teenagers want to go out of the school environment and not necessarily eat a nutritious, healthy meal.
“It’s strange time so it is difficult to give a comprehensive answer, but we certainly want to maximise the school meals uptake.
“The numbers going down is very much a national trend but to turn around the figure is something very much on our radar.”