THE cost of a school meal in Hampshire is set to go up.

Parents across the county could be asked to pay £2.40 instead of £2.30 for the hot two course meal their children will have at school from September 2019.

Unpredictable weather, Brexit and alternatives to single use plastic have been blamed for the proposed increase which is set to be approved by the Executive Lead Member for Children’s Services at Hampshire County Council (HCC) on May 8.

However, it is recommended that schools  will continue to be charged £2.30 per meal for those which are provided under the Government’s Universal Infant Free School Meals (UIFSM) grant.

If the proposal is approved, it will mean parents across Hampshire will pay more than those in Southampton, where a school meal costs £2.10, according to a document published by the county council.

HCC said its in-house catering service (HC3S) continues to deliver efficiencies, where possible, “to offset some of these large inflationary pressures” but added that small changes in costs can have a significant impact on the total cost of the school meals service in Hampshire as an increase of one penny on the cost of food per meal would cost HC3S an additional £114,000 a year. 

The authority said the proposed price rise represents a 4.3% increase and it is compared to the hourly pay rate for catering assistants rising by 6.4%.

“With 90% of the cost of producing a school meal being made up of catering staff and food, there are limited opportunities to reduce these costs further without jeopardising food quality and standards,” a report issued by HCC ahead of the meeting states. 

The document also reads: “Further food inflationary pressures are also being forecast by the food industry arising from both unpredictable and unseasonable weather patterns globally and the UK leaving the European Union. HC3S is actively sourcing alternatives to singleuse plastic across its operations, which are often at higher cost and there may be additional cost pressure arising from the Government’s proposals for a plastics packaging tax which are currently out for consultation.”

Meanwhile, it is proposed that the price charged directly to schools for the meals which are funded by UIFSM will remain at the current price of £2.30 from September 2019 as the government funding to schools will also remain at £2.30 per meal for the 2019/20 academic year and an increase to  £2.40 would create an estimated additional cost pressure for Hampshire schools of over £270,000 a year, the authority said.