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Warning Tayside regional school kitchen uncertainty threatens free childcare rollout 

Some of the new frozen school meals are prepared for a taste test.
Some of the new frozen school meals are prepared for a taste test.

Extra free childcare hours for Angus families are at risk due to issues surrounding a new regional school kitchen in Dundee.

Angus council officials have warned they could be unable “to deliver” on a “commitment to the expansion of early learning and childcare” if plans for the shared facility do not progress.

The shared kitchen plans were thrown in the air last month when Perth and Kinross councillors voted to withdraw from the scheme after a campaign highlighting job losses and concerns over the quality of the frozen food to be prepared in the new kitchen.

The Scottish Government and local authorities have committed to almost double the funded entitlement to early learning and childcare (ELC) from 600 to 1140 hours from August 2020 for all three and four year olds and eligible two year olds

Mark Armstrong, Angus Council depute chief executive, prepared a paper on the Tayside Meals Centre proposal for councillors to consider on Tuesday.

It states: “There would be a significant risk that the council will not be able to deliver on its commitment to the expansion of ELC in August 2020” without the new Dundee-based kitchen.

The paper said the additional demand for school meals created by the national ELC commitment created “practical challenges… through existing kitchen facilities.”

The paper went on: “If members were not minded to support the proposals in this report urgent action would be needed to determine just how Angus Council would meet the required increase in meal provision in circa 10 months’ time.”

Perth and Kinross Council’s decision to withdraw from the plan has also cost Angus Council £31,000 in anticipated annual savings, according to the paper.

The project is still predicted to save the local authority more than £100,000 per year with no change to the upfront costs.

Dundee City Council has said it is still committed to the shared kitchen.

Tayside Contracts plan to cook school meals at their Tay Cuisine industrial kitchen in Dundee before freezing the food.

The meals will then be shipped out to distribution hubs across the region before being delivered to schools.

Perth and Kinross councillors voted against the plan after concerns about jobs losses in rural parts of Perthshire.

Mr Armstrong moved to allay Angus councillor’s concerns in the report, claiming “no workforce implications for Angus Council related to this report.”

He said there would be “a net increase of 38 Tayside Contracts posts.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We have been assured by Angus Council that the expansion of early learning and childcare in Angus will not be held back by the production of meals.

“The council is continuing to put in place staff, facilities, and systems to ensure that all eligible children have access to 1140 hours of high quality ELC.

“The Scottish Government works closely with all councils to support the delivery of the expansion, and will continue to work with Angus as it considers its options for meal provision,” she added.

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