PACKET OF CRISPS AND A HALF V IN ARANCI’S

BILL HEANEY’S NOTEBOOK ON SCHOOL DINNERS

There’s nothing new in the fact that pupils in our schools are rejecting school dinners and replacing them with snacks bought from corner shops and chip vans.

That’s been going on since Adam was a boy – and we were queued up in Aranci’s, which later became Peter McGarry’ s, for a Half V and a packet of crisps.

That is if we had any money left after shelling out on five Woodbine and a box of matches. To be shared out in singles, of course.

I can’t remember what a school dinner cost when I was a pupil at St Patrick’s High School in Cardross Road.

That may be because I seldom bought a ticket and the only time I thought it would be worth going into the dining hall was if I was on to a free dinner.

Even then I didn’t often think those dinners cut it.

Luke-warm, watery beef mince swimming in butter beans and two scoops of lumpy mashed potatoes come to mind though. And lumpy custard with jam sponge.

The kindly school dinner ladies tried to keep us going with extra helpings of slimy semolina and prunes and epicurean treats such as that, but we weren’t old enough to appreciate their good deeds.

And we retched afterwards in that god awful bog on the corner of the building which the education committee they tried to pass off as the boys’ lavatory.

No wonder the school was called The Penitentiary. It wasn’t even in the same league as Barlinnie, where the men who had gone before used chamber pots and slopped out before breakfast.

We were belted from dawn to dusk, from the moment we failed to get into line on time or had the temerity to speak to our classmates, to telling Wee Doc, Big Dan or some other luminary from the old days that we hadn’t done our Latin homework – again.

School must be a better place now in the 21st century.

It just has to be under the stewardship of West Dunbartonshire Council, although my generation got a far better education on an empty stomach than the pupils do now.

One of the local newspapers revealed this week what they called “the bombshell” news that the price of school lunches had gone up. It was always dinners, never lunches, and the hard-pressed women who served them were called dinner ladies.

It was reported: “The rising cost of a school dinner has seen secondary pupils ditching the canteen — and the council losing £181,000 in lunch money.

“The bombshell was revealed at a West Dunbartonshire Council meeting last week and follows an ‘excessive, inflation-busting’ hike in the price of lunches, according to fuming Labour councillors.

“After raising the price of school dinners by nine percent — to £2.45 a day — the council has seen income from meals drop by £181,000.”

£2.45 was half of what we paid for our annual two weeks holidays at the Boys’ Guild camp in Ireland. Full board.

As for £180,000, they could have run all the schools and the education department in their snazzy office in Glasgow’s West End for that kind of money.

A reporter at the meeting – some of us are not welcome – revealed that Joe Reilly, education finance officer, told councillors that pupils are going elsewhere for their dinner these days – adding that West Dunbartonshire was one of the most expensive councils in the country for school meals. Now there’s a surprise.

A school meal every day for a week equates to £12.25 a week for parents — that’s £49 a month per student. That’s a mirtgage.

Addressing the £181,000 “collapse” in income from school meals and vending machines so far this year, Mr Reilly said: “A lot of pupils in secondaries are voting with their feet and going for “alternative food providers at lunch time”.

He added: “Primaries have more of a captive audience I would suggest. We are now the highest cost local authority in Scotland for school meals and I think that has taken its toll.

“The main reason for the adverse variance on the secondary side is to do with the collapse in school meals income.”

The last hike in cost for a school meal was applied from April 2019 and, like the dinners, it did not go down well. Much like school dinners.

Labour leader Martin Rooney, who was reported to be ‘outraged,’ said: “We have got the highest school meal cost at £2.45 and it’s gone up by nine percent this year and four percent previous years.

“How much income was lost as a result of the kids walking out because of the excessive, inflation-busting increase in their school meals?”

Karen Conaghan, pictured below, convener of education, interrupted to say the officer would not have the figures, which would need to be provided within a members’ briefing.

Gavinburn PS Gaelic classes

She would have known previously, of course, that it is part of her party’s strategy to keep anything that is really interesting or might reflect badly on the SNP in the party’s locker, where they keep all their secrets and  interesting facts and figures under wraps.

She said: “I think part of the thing with vending machines is that what is in them is not what they want to buy which is maybe because of the restrictions in what we can sell to young people, in terms of healthy things. They will vote with their feet and go and buy Irn Bru.

“Teenagers like to go and buy fizzy drinks and chips, let’s be honest, and what they have access to in schools is not that because we’re trying to encourage them to a better and healthier lifestyle.”

Maybe Cllr Conaghan could have a word with the LibDem candidate Jenni Lang about this. It’s part of their pitch for Thursday’s election to cut down on obesity amongst schoolchildren. And, unlike the SNP, they would appear to have a plan for that.

Cllr Danny Lennie said he was worried that if things kept going as they are at present then the whole school meals service might have to shut down.

Council leader Jonathan McColl, pictured below right, assured members there would be no more “large increases”.

But he has a poor reputation for being one of those “maybe’s aye, maybe’s naw” politicians. He used to be indecisive but now he just can’t make up his mind.

Everything he says, like the school dinners, should be taken with a pinch of salt

McColl under coverHe commented: “The point of the charging review last year was to bring our charges up to a more sensible level because we were quite far behind other councils in certain areas. There’s no intention from the administration’s point of view to go through that exercise again and have large increases.”

Really? Are you certain of that Jonathan?  Or do I see another U-turn on the horizon?

A council spokeswoman said the two-course meals are “value for money” and is significantly lower than
the cost of providing the service.

How would she know, has she ever had one? Why no faux consultation with the pupils about this then?

She added: “We have also lowered the point at which children are eligible for free school meals, meaning 80 percent of school meals received in primary schools and 50 percent in secondary schools are free of charge.”

Which means simply that under the SNP government for the past 12 years and the SNP council for however long we have had them now, we have slumped further into poverty to become one of the most deprived areas in Scotland.

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