A council leader has lashed out at the “shameless spin” of a Tory MP who tried to claim credit for funding Free School Meals for local kids – days after he voted down measures to extend the scheme over the half-term break.
Corby Borough Council joined a raft of businesses and community groups in announcing that it would unilaterally fund Free School Meals throughout half-term, with council leaders saying that it was “important to act fast and ensure that our children within Corby don’t go hungry”.
Tom Pursglove – the MP for Corby and East Northamptonshire – claimed on Twitter that Corby Borough Council “benefitted directly from extra government funding” that helped to “provide appropriate support for residents, such as towards their Free School Meals initiative”.
But the council shot back that the funding actually came from money originally earmarked for its annual bonfire night and firework display – which has been cancelled this year due to coronavirus restrictions.
Tom Beattie, the Labour leader of Corby Borough Council, told TLE that local leaders had made the decision to fund Free School Meals in the area “prior to any announcement from the government”.
In an interview on Monday morning, Beattie said that the council “took a decision last week that we would put money set aside for the firework display towards funding Free School Meals for children here in Corby”.
He added: “For our local MP to try and claim that it’s government money that we are using rattled a few cages here in Corby, not just among us Labour politicians. There was clearly a view that this was an attempt to try and claim benefit for something they hadn’t done.
“There are facts, and there is shameless Tory spin. I think it’s backfired on them, frankly.”
Beattie revealed that the county council was set to announce an extension to the Free School Meals service to cover the half term break – but only after the borough council had pledged to fund the programme themselves.
“We were prepared to use that money that otherwise would have been spent elsewhere to feed children reliant on Free School Meals in Corby. That’s where the money is coming from,” he said.
Responding to the council, Pursglove said Beattie’s efforts were “very good and commendable”. But, he added, it “doesn’t change the fact you’ve been given an extra £1.47 million for Covid-related support from government, so no doubt you can enhance it further if you so wish.”
In a controversial vote last week, 322 Conservative MPs voted down an effort – prompted by the viral campaigning of England star Marcus Rashford – to ensure no vulnerable child goes hungry over half term and Christmas.
Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, has pledged to force another vote on the issue before Christmas – with Tory MPs across the country facing a significant backlash following the vote.
Spooked by a growing revolt on his back-benches, Boris Johnson is reportedly considering a U-turn on the issue in the coming days.