Cllr Chris Steward, a former council leader who leads York Conservatives, opted not to sign a letter asking for commitments on free school meals last week.
The letter was signed by Cllr Claire Douglas, the Labour group and council leader, and Cllr Nigel Ayre, leader of the opposition Liberal Democrat group.
Following the letter, Cllr Ayre stated that the Labour administration would not be able to fulfill their pledge to provide free school meals for every primary school child in York. He also noted that the best way to deliver free school meals is through a national program, and that the York Labour Party has signed up for this.
In response, Cllr Steward, who chose not to sign the letter, stated that while they support free school meals for entitled children with low parental income, they do not believe it is wise to commit to free school meals for all children.
“It is sad that the Lib Dems hope to achieve cheap political points on this issue with what they admit is an entirely unfunded commitment,” Steward added, criticizing the Liberal Democrats’ lack of serious funding plans for their pledges.
The Liberal Democrats have been pressuring Labour about the feasibility of their promise to provide free school meals to all primary school children. Before being elected, Labour pledged to fund free school meals for all primary school children with a community-raised fund.
However, Labour’s stance has changed from their original pledge to provide free school meals to every primary school child, and they are now focusing on “mobilising the city”. Trials for free meals are taking place at specific schools, but more funding will be needed for further trials.
When questioned about the deliverability of the policy, education executive Cllr Bob Webb stated, “Obviously it’s going to develop over time and it will be whatever the city makes of it.” He also acknowledged that finances are challenging but emphasized the city’s commitment to delivering support to young people.