Thursday, 10 May 2018

Ceisteanna (281, 282, 283)

Louise O'Reilly

Ceist:

281. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the cost of the free school meals programme in each of the past five years; the rates of payment per meal, child and day, respectively; the number of students availing of each meal option in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20561/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Louise O'Reilly

Ceist:

282. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the way in which the free school meals programme is assessed or audited in terms of the provision of suitable quality and nutritional value; the way in which the programme is assessed or audited in terms of the way in which meals are prepared and consumed; if her attention has been drawn to instances in which the lack of access to appropriate infrastructure has hindered the ability of a school to avail of the scheme or a particular meal option; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20562/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Louise O'Reilly

Ceist:

283. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if the new school food standards developed for the school meals programme will become a mandatory standard applied to all schools; the costs involved in working towards this in terms of education, training and other costs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20574/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 281 to 283, inclusive, together.

The school meals programme provides funding towards the provision of food to some 1,580 schools and organisations benefitting 250,000 children at a total cost of €54 million in 2018. Expenditure for the school meals programme for the last five years is provided in the attached tabular statement. Funding is based on a rate of payment per meal, per child, per day. The maximum rates of payment and the number of students currently availing of each meal option is also provided in the tabular statement.

The objective of the scheme is to provide regular, nutritious food to children who are unable, due to lack of good quality food, to take full advantage of the education provided to them. The Deputy will be aware that ‘Nutrition Standards for School Meals ’ published in September 2017 under the auspices of Healthy Ireland, is a valuable resource to enable and promote healthy eating and healthy lifestyles in schools. These standards complement and strengthen the healthy eating guidelines that were already in place. The standards were introduced commencing from January 2018 and all schools participating in the school meals scheme are expected to fully comply with these standards from September 2018.

The requirement to implement these nutrition standards is met by the schools and organisations who are responsible for the the delivery model and choice of supplier to be used. The scheme can be delivered in a variety of ways and depends on the needs, capabilities and resources, including infrastructure, of the schools or groups. Delivery models can range from the provision of full canteen services to the purchase of pre-prepared meals from specialist school meals suppliers or local suppliers. The physical infrastructure in schools is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills.

A number of different agencies have a role in food safety and environmental health services in Ireland. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland is the central competent authority with the overall co-ordinating role for food safety.

In terms of assessing or auditing the types of meals provided under the school meals scheme, schools and organisations must reapply for funding in advance of each school year and are required to submit detailed records at the end of each school year. Expenditure on unhealthy food items is deducted from the funding allocation. In addition, the Department initiated an on-site inspection programme in 2012 to ensure that the scheme rules are being adhered to including an assessment of the type of food provided. My Department recently introduced service level agreements with all participating schools and organisations which sets out the responsibilities of participants.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Table 1: School Meals Scheme Expenditure 2014 – 2018

Allocation

Year

€m

2014

16.6*

2015

38.8

2016

36.9

2017

46.6

2018

54 allocated

*Accounting adjustment which did not impact on the service provided in schools

Table 2: Rates of Payment for school meals scheme and number of pupils availing in the 2017/18 Academic Year

Meal

Max Rate of Payment (per child per day)

No. of Pupils

Breakfast/Snack

€0.60

163,660

Lunch/Afterschool

€1.40

152,500

Dinner

€1.90

22,930