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Nicola Sturgeon ‘sympathetic’ to calls on councils to write off school meal debt

Nicola Sturgeon said she is ‘very sympathetic’ to calls for councils to write off school meal debts (Chris Radburn/PA)
Nicola Sturgeon said she is ‘very sympathetic’ to calls for councils to write off school meal debts (Chris Radburn/PA)

Nicola Sturgeon said she is “very sympathetic” to calls for councils to write off more than £1 million owed to them by families for school meals.

The First Minister said she is “deeply uncomfortable” with the idea of hard-up parents being pursued for outstanding cash.

While she added that councils “usually do write off school meal debt”, Ms Sturgeon revealed that she has now asked Scottish Government officials to start discussions on the issue with local authority leaders at Cosla.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has asked officials to talk to council leaders about school meals debt (Jane Barlow/PA)

She was pressed on the issue during First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood in the wake of a report by children’s charity Aberlour which found that while youngsters in P1 to P5 are eligible for free school meals, families of pupils in P6 and P7 owe £1,032,500.

Scottish Green education spokesman Ross Greer said in March that the cost-of-living crisis means it is “the right time to write off all outstanding school meal debt”.

Now SNP backbencher Stephanie Callaghan has raised the issue with the First Minister and insisted “local authorities should write off this debt”.

Ms Sturgeon said: “Households right across the country are facing a Tory-exacerbated cost-of-living crisis, which is pushing up food prices, and we know that those on the lowest incomes are hardest hit.

“So I am deeply uncomfortable, as any decent person should be, with families being pursued for debt for school meals, especially in the economic climate that exists right now.

“I am very sympathetic for calls for this debt to be written off, and part of what I have asked officials to do is to look at that.”

The First Minister continued: “It should be said local authorities usually do write off school meal debt for families, but I have asked Scottish Government officials to talk with Cosla about what more can be done.”

She added: “Local authorities also have flexibility to offer free school meals to families who don’t meet eligibility criteria but who are experiencing financial hardship, and I would encourage anyone who thinks they have become eligible for free school meals to apply as soon as possible.”

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