Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

Enda Kenny

Question:

119 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs if he will provide details of the revised free school meals scheme; the criteria and conditions that apply; the way in which the scheme is to be administered in schools where the scheme applies; the methods of provision of the food involved; the numbers of pupils that will benefit as a consequence; the way in which this figure was arrived at; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20505/00]

Seán Ryan

Question:

132 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the plans he has to improve the school meals scheme; and the provision he has made for hot meals through the scheme. [20486/00]

Frances Fitzgerald

Question:

774 Ms Fitzgerald asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the way in which he will ensure that the school meals service is reformed and more effective; and when detailed proposals will be published. [20265/00]

Paul McGrath

Question:

796 Mr. McGrath asked the Minister for Social Community and Family Affairs the primary schools and second level schools at which pupils have access to free school meals funded by his Department. [20539/00]

Paul McGrath

Question:

797 Mr. McGrath asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the expenditure by his Department on free schools meals for primary school pupils and secondary school pupils in the school year 1999-2000. [20540/00]

Paul McGrath

Question:

798 Mr. McGrath asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the schools to which he proposes to expand the free meals service for pupils; and the proposed expenditure on this scheme in the school year 2000-01. [20541/00]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 119, 132, 774, 796, 797 and 798 together.

This Department's expenditure on school meals in 1999 amounted to £565,000. Estimated expenditure, based on the current scheme, for 2000 and 2001 is £860,000 and £930,000 respectively. Expenditure figures for academic years are not available within the Department.

Applications from schools to participate in the scheme are dealt with in the first instance by the local authorities. The details of the primary schools which are benefiting from the scheme are therefore not available within the Department. Returns to the Department from the 31 local authorities which operated the scheme in 1999 indicate that in the region of 370 schools received meals in that year.

I have felt for some time that the current school meals scheme falls a long way short of what is required and that a major reform of the scheme is needed. Accordingly, I established an interdepartmental working group chaired by my Department to review the scheme from first principles.

The review is being undertaken as part of the series of expenditure reviews which seek to ensure that spending programmes are still relevant and to identify priorities for adjustments in expenditure. In this case, proposals are being developed for a reformed school meals scheme that will meet the needs of today's school-going children in an efficient and effective manner.

The working group undertaking the review is composed of representatives from my Department, the Departments of Health and Children, Education and Science, Environment and Local Government and Finance, Dublin Corporation and the County and City Managers' Association. This is indicative of the broad range of stakeholders in this area.

Consultation with relevant organisations has been a feature of the reviews carried out to date in my Department. In the course of this review the working group has invited submissions from statutory and voluntary groups, it has surveyed local authorities and schools and met with those involved in innovative projects in the area. The working group and the Combat Poverty Agency jointly organised a seminar last month attended by statutory, voluntary and commercial bodies with an interest in the area.
This consultation process will inform the group's consideration of the future policy direction for the scheme. All of the issues and difficulties with the current scheme, including the exclusion of county council areas and secondary school pupils, and the various options for a revised school meals scheme have emerged during the consultation process. The working group is examining all of these matters, including the type of food to be provided, whether breakfast, cold lunch or hot food.
As the working group is still in the process of reviewing the scheme, details of a revised school meals scheme, the criteria and conditions that will apply, the administration of the revised scheme, the methods of provision and types of food to be provided, the number of pupils that will benefit, the cost of the revised scheme etc. are not decided. I expect to receive the working group's report early in the new year.
Pending completion of the report I was pleased to be able to provide interim funding, towards the food costs, for the voluntary and community groups currently providing school meals outside of the existing scheme.